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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 9 Dec 1999

Vol. 512 No. 5

Ceisteanna–Questions. Priority Questions. - Family Butchers.

Brian O'Shea


2 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the proposals, if any, he has to meet the concerns of family butchers in terms of the survival of their businesses (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26447/99]

I fully acknowledge the role played by family butchers and recognise that they can have much to offer to the market in terms of high quality product and traceability of supply. While the retail market is highly competitive, there is no doubt that operators who can offer top quality products, produced and supplied in a manner which meet the wide-ranging and high demands of today's consumer have a definite role to play.

Family butchers, because of the nature of their activity, must comply with food safety and hygiene standards which are provided for in EU and national legislation. The purpose of these legal standards is to ensure an acceptable level of meat hygiene and to guarantee public safety. New EU state aid rules preclude member states from providing financial assistance to operators aimed at bringing them up to minimum hygiene and food safety requirements. Standard operating procedures have been drawn up by my Department for small abattoirs slaughtering less than six livestock per week in an effort to ensure that costs incurred by them in meeting mandatory hygiene and food safety standards are minimised.

Do I understand that the EU precludes member states from giving financial assistance to the sector? If that is the case, are there any other means by which the Minister can assist the sector? There are about 5,000 employed in the small abattoir sector, with at least another 5,000 in the retail sector. They need financial assistance because our standards are increasing and our regulations are becoming more demanding. Given the scale of their business many face the prospect of being put out of business unless the State can find a way to assist them.

I agree with the Deputy that family vituallers provide a great service in supplying fresh meat to consumers but as a member of the European Union we are precluded from providing assistance in the areas mentioned. We may be able to do so however, in the case of a new quality product. Departmental officials have had meetings with the butchers organisation. If it has something new to offer I will not have a difficulty in having a further meeting with it. There is a new food subprogramme but it is very restrictive in terms of who can qualify. The European Commission is very strict when it comes to the provision of state aid through measures of this nature, especially when there is over capacity in larger abattoirs.

May I take it that the Minister of State will provide every assistance possible within the regulatory regime to help family butchers stay in business thus giving consumers an extra choice?

Practically everybody would agree with the Deputy. I am aware of the difficulties. There are two main areas of concern – slaughtering and refrigeration. Without good refrigeration equipment, one will not have a quality product. Even with the best will in the world it is still very difficult to find a way to help given the restrictions in place. I fully recognise the value of family victuallers to the fresh meat sector and the country as a whole.