This simple and short Bill, as the Minister described it, is in marked contrast to the fanfare with which the then Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, launched Bord Bia in 1989 or 1990. I deeply regret that the Government has decided to scrap Bord Glas, which is the purpose of the Bill.
When introducing the Bill to establish Bord Glas as an independent statutory body in 1990, the then Minister stated that the Government believed that the much needed development of our horticultural industry could be achieved only if responsibility for its development was put in the hands of a body with specific overall responsibility to carry out the task. When one winds forward the clock, one discovers that certain cutbacks had to be made because of the Government's spending mania in the years leading up to the previous general election. When the so-called three wise men set their eyes on the Department of Agriculture and Food, the wheel stopped spinning when it reached Teagasc and Bord Glas. The result is this Bill for which the catalyst was the need to cut costs. Irrespective of the general arguments of properly managing the public finances, however, one should always be slow to target development research and market intelligence.
At the time of its introduction, the Fine Gael Party opposed the Bill for a number of reasons but many of its concerns were addressed on Committee Stage by the then Minister. At the conclusion of Report Stage, the former Deputy Farrelly stated he was happy with the assurances given by the Minister to consult industry. Nevertheless, many of the issues raised by Members then still hold true.
With concerns about healthy eating and competition in the horticultural industry on the increase, the decision to incorporate Bord Glas into the larger Bord Bia is a retrograde step. Considerable concern has been expressed to me about the dangers of the smaller agency being subsumed in the larger body and losing its identity. Bord Glas and other small agencies such as Bord Iascaigh Mhara have a definite, concentrated and recognisable role which may be lost.
It is also proposed to relocate Bord Bia and Bord Glas, with their staff of some 75 people, to Enniscorthy. Given that 20 of these posts are based overseas, will the Minister explain the precise position? Speaking on budget day, the Minister for Finance announced the transfer of some 75 members of the staff of Bord Bia to Enniscorthy, yet I am given to understand that 55 of them are located here, with a further 20 based overseas.
The founding principle of Bord Glas was to maximise the contribution of horticulture to the economy, the environment and the health and well-being of our citizens by ensuring the availability of quality produce and services from the horticulture sector. One of the main objectives was to promote increased consumption, which is now more important than ever in light of the current widespread debate on our eating habits, especially among the young.
Medical opinion suggests that obesity among children could reach epidemic proportions within the next ten years due to our sedentary lifestyle and eating habits. To receive a cabbage or turnip in one's Christmas stocking is depicted as punishment rather than reward. According to the Food Safety Promotion Board, obesity levels increased by 67% between 1990 and 2000 and more than 20% of men and 16% of women are now obese.
Television advertising aimed at children has played a major role in this trend. Each year in the United States, for example, the food industry spends an estimated $10 billion to influence children's eating behaviour. The average American child watches 10,000 food advertisements per annum, 95% of which are for fast food, soft drinks, confectionery and sugared cereals. More than 100 obese children are being treated at the National Children's Hospital in Dublin for growth, diabetes and endocrinology disorders. While recent research by the Department of Health and Children indicates that adults are increasing their consumption of fruit and vegetables, since 1998, reported fruit consumption has declined sharply — by almost half — among schoolchildren and vegetable consumption has also declined, although not at the same rate.
Health promotion may not be a function of the board, but increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables is within its remit. It must be frustrating, therefore, to have to compete with McDonald's and similar companies. I hope funding will always be allocated to promote healthy consumption.
Consumers spent €801 million on fresh fruit, vegetables and potatoes last year, second only to dairy produce. A further €1.1 billion was spent on the procurement of these products in the food service industry. On the non-food side of horticulture, consumers spent €431 million on plants and cut flowers for the home and garden products. This indigenous industry employs approximately 18,500 people across the food and non-food areas and employment is spread across the country.
I was disappointed to learn from Bord Bia at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food yesterday that our edible horticulture exports decreased by 3% last year, although it is possible some of this decline is due to currency differences. Bord Glas monitors the retail value of the fresh produce market through the Taylor Nelson Sofres household panel in the Republic which involves continuously tracking the spend of a representative sample of 1,350 households. The consumption figure of €801 million in 2002 consists of €310 million for fresh vegetables, €161 million for potatoes and €330 million for fruit and berries.
Despite our pride in the horticulture industry, a visit to any supermarket or shop provides evidence of the large quantity of such products we import, including cabbage from the Netherlands, carrots from Spain and potatoes from Israel and France. The market share of Irish vegetable production is declining even though consumption of vegetables is increasing due in the main to the increased intake by adults. Irish imports of fruit and vegetables in 2002 were to the value of €613 million, an increase of 9% over 2001. The Irish mushroom sector has fallen back in recent years and its value decreased by €11 million in 2002 to €117 million.
An article published inThe Irish Examiner at the end of January reported that a local Cork producer experienced difficulties because he was a long distance from the market. It stated that the industry was in the hands of a small group of growers who were tied in with the big multiples and it was difficult for other growers to break in. It was proposed that if the other growers co-operated their bargaining power would be enhanced. I believe this was tried in east Cork but they ran into difficulties a few years ago and went out of business. Growers experience difficulties with transport costs.
There are many challenges for the horticulture industry. Due to diversification many mainstream farmers may seek to enter this sector. In an enlarged EU change will be required. There will be more competition but there will also be a more accessible market. Labour shortage difficulties in such a labour-intensive industry should be easier to overcome from next May but it is likely there will be a reduction in Structural Funds available for investment in the industry over the coming years. For obvious demographic reasons, many tillage areas are in close proximity to large areas of population and the increasing demand for housing will eat into this supply. There will be a departure of experienced growers and their associated expertise.
Our microwave lifestyle does not sit easily with fresh produce and a more radical taste among young people has given rise to a string of Thai, Indian and Chinese outlets and products. There are Indian restaurants in places as diverse as Bunbeg and Cross Bridge. In the past we were used to the chipper and breast of chicken meals but now most nooks and crannies have these foreign, so-called exotic restaurants.
With increased participation in the workforce, preparation time for meals is limited. Pre-packed and prepared vegetables are becoming more popular. Bord Glas should have been expanded to meet these challenges. Food safety is rarely an issue with fruit and vegetables so price is the main factor. It is difficult for the organic sector to expand at a great rate. Many areas require assistance and advice.
This Bill is straightforward and the Minister has outlined the relevant sections. It subsumes Bord Glas into Bord Bia. Section 4 deals with the staff transfer. The concept of decentralisation is to be welcomed. The Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith tried to relocate the Civil Defence on one occasion. There was a staff of 30 in the Dublin headquarters but only one person agreed to relocate to Roscrea. The staff of both Bord Bia and Bord Glas are experts and I question how decentralisation will operate. I sought to raise the matter at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food but I was ruled out of order by the Chairman because the committee was dealing with marketing issues. I wonder how the relocation to Enniscorthy will impact on the marketing ability or otherwise of Bord Bia.
The remaining sections of the Bill deal with administrative matters and the composition and appointment of the board. Section 14 allows for the establishment of subsidiary companies. I ask the Minister to elaborate on this provision in his response or on Committee Stage. I am uncertain whether this means that it deals with specialised assurance schemes or a marketing body for specific aspects such as the organic sector or the administration of a quality control scheme.
The amenities sector faces a greater threat of neglect than the edible sector. I ask the Minister to review this issue on a regular basis. Horticulture also includes the garden centre sector which is countrywide. In my constituency there is a garden centre called Rathwood which is very successful. As people have more disposable income they will buy items such as flowers and bedding plants.
There is a great opportunity for expansion in garden products. Ongoing investment is required in the industry and modulation funds may have a role to play. I ask the Minister to consider encouraging farmers to diversify into certain aspects of horticulture. The modulation fund will be the Minister for Agriculture and Food's version of the slush fund of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív. I am confident the Minister will use the fund in a more responsible manner than was the case with the CLÁR programme.
Producers should consolidate and grow to order for key buyers. They must provide themselves with the option of the weekend farm markets. Local authorities should facilitate this development. Many people like to visit the local farm market and more are setting up. It gives the farmer an opportunity to compete against the regular retailers. Transport efficiency is vital to the survival of growers located at a distance from population centres. There is a real battle against imported products. Consumers should not be deceived by the glossy chilled product on the shelves.
I was among a group of Members who participated in a recent promotion by Bord Glas. We were asked to purchase food products and I endeavoured to buy Irish products only. Out of a total expenditure of €14 my expenditure on non-Irish produce was approximately €9 and that was mainly vegetables. There is much deceptive advertising of products in shops and consumers may believe they are buying an Irish product when they are not doing so. As Deputy Upton will know, I won the healthy buying competition but like most politicians I have unhealthy eating habits.
As regards marketing, it seems there is an attempt to subsume everything into Bord Bia but there is only one representative of Bord Bia in the United States, based in Chicago. That seems unusual to my mind. Perhaps the thinking is that the individual companies should do their own promotion work and only one link person is required in the American market. I suggest that the drinks sector should be represented.
The Minister mentioned in his speech that 34 organisations were asked for their views. He may not be able to provide the information today but I ask him to inform me of the response he received from them. The genesis of this Bill was in the cutbacks in the 2002 Estimates. The cutbacks were necessary as a result of the spending mania and the over-expenditure by Government in past years. It is now more important than ever to have a promotion body for the edible and amenity sectors of horticulture. This is particularly in view of the fact that in 2002 imports were to the value of approximately €600 million. It is surprising that we are importing so much foreign produce.
The promotional work of Bord Glas is excellent but it has a staff of only 11 or 12 people. That body should have been expanded rather than contracted. There is an increasing realisation of the need for healthy eating. As is the case with crime, preventative measures should be put in place to assist health by encouraging people to eat healthily. We should not think that the cabbage or the turnip is a punishment food.
Fine Gael recently carried out a survey on the issue of the farm gate price of products. For example, the farmer is paid 40 cent for a head of cabbage, there is a mark-up of 233% and the consumer pays €1.29. He is paid 20 cent per kilo for potatoes and they are sold at 90 cent per kilo which is a mark-up of 350%. He is paid 47 cent for a cauliflower and it costs €1.19 in the supermarket. We have continual difficulties with the farm gate price. Farmers need to work together to re-examine this matter. I do not know why the co-operative in Cork, with which Deputy Dennehy may be familiar, did not succeed. The option of a farm market or some other outlet should be open to farmers. People like to buy fresh goods, rather than being deceived by the chilled products which are imported by food stores. I realise that it is not legal for Bord Glas or Bord Bia strictly to market Irish produce, as opposed to imported products, at home.
When one examines the contributions to the debate that took place when Bord Glas was being established, one will be reminded that it emerged from a commitment in a Fianna Fáil manifesto in the late 1980s. It was a good idea, on reflection, to establish Bord Glas and I regret that it is being abolished. It seems that the Government intends to proceed with its abolition. I realise that the Minister is arguing that it is not being abolished, but merged with another entity. We all know, however, that the larger organisation swallows up the smaller one during a merger.