Written Answers. - Animal Breeding Centres.

Ned O'Keeffe

Ceist:

178 Mr. N. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development when it is proposed to relax the embargo which has been placed by his Department on the services of licensed animal breeding centres; if his attention has been drawn to the frustration among dairy farmers whose farm plans have been drastically upset due to this embargo; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that 80% of dairy farmers use artificial insemination due to its efficiency and the high class quality breeds which are available; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that further serious consequences will arise out of this embargo as the indications are that Ireland will not be in a position to reach its milk quota for the year 2000-01; if he will consider putting a code of practice in place, taking into account the serious threat of the foot and mouth disease problem, to enable these animal breeding centres to operate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10051/01]

In the national interest and as a necessary control measure against the spread of foot and mouth disease, FMD, my Department sought the co-operation of the AI industry and requested the suspension of all AI services. I am aware that this, as well as many other necessary measures taken, is causing problems for AI organisations and their employees-contractors as well as the farmers who would normally avail of their services at this time of year. I am satisfied, however, that as of now it would not be safe to recommend a full resumption of the services concerned. The overall position on FMD and the real threat it poses to Irish agriculture and our economy remains serious. The risks and potentially disastrous consequences involved in relaxing restrictions in key areas too early cannot be overstated.

The nature of the AI service is that it involves extensive farm to farm contact, which is the highest risk category and any resumption must take that into account. The easing of the restriction on the AI service is, however, under active consideration and taking into account the advice of the expert committee on foot and mouth restrictions, I expect to be in a position to make a statement on the matter shortly. Any resumption will be on the basis of strict guidelines to be adhered to by operatives involved.

As regards the milk quota arrangements, I have already announced measures aimed at alleviating some of the difficulties for producers affected by the restrictions on movement. I have also announced the delayed start of the 2001 quota restructuring scheme in order to take account of the difficulties arising at present for dairy farmers wishing to sell or buy quota. I am satisfied that the additional quota given to Ireland under Agenda 2000 will be fully utilised during the next quota year.