Other Questions.

Grant Payments.

Deirdre Clune

Ceist:

100 Deputy Deirdre Clune asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she has discussed with the EU Agriculture Commissioner proposals to increase from 5% per annum compulsory modulation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21887/07]

Modulation, the transfer of funds from CAP Pillar One to Pillar Two was introduced by the Agriculture Council as part of an overall radical mid-term review of the CAP in June 2003. The decision of the Council was to introduce modulation at the rate of 3% in 2005, increasing to 4% in 2006 and 5% in 2007 and every year thereafter to 2012.

There is speculation that the Commission will bring forward proposals in the context of the upcoming health check for an increase in the rate of compulsory modulation. The expected timeframe for the health check is publication of a Commission communication next month with formal legislative proposals in May 2008. Agreement on the overall health check proposals is planned for the latter half of 2008 during the French Presidency of the EU.

I am opposed to an increase in the compulsory modulation rate. My view is that there is a legitimate expectation on the part of farmers concerning single payment rates for the period 2007 to 2013. I believe we should not sacrifice support for Pillar One activities to drive the development of the second pillar. I expressed this view at the recent informal Council of Ministers meeting in September. There is also a net loss to Ireland from modulation as the reduction in direct payments is not fully compensated by the increase in RD allocations.

I will be participating fully in all negotiations on this and other aspects of the health check, when specific proposals emerge. In the meantime, I have been in contact with the Commission and other member states to encourage support for our views on this matter.

Members on this side of the House acknowledge and support the excellent work in terms of rural development by organisations such as Leader. However, we do not want to see a situation whereby future funding of Leader organisations and rural development groups will be at the expense of Irish farmers. Effectively, this is what is on the table in terms of health check and the CAP review due to commence in 2008. We encourage the Minister not to yield to the EU Commission on this issue. We will support her in every possible way in this regard.

The value of single farm payments, given that agri-inflation is way ahead of ordinary inflation, has diminished significantly. To take further from that would impact significantly on farmers' incomes. I ask that the Minister hold her ground on this issue to ensure rural development is not funded at the expense of agriculture.

I agree with the Deputy on this issue. I have grave reservations in respect of an increase in compulsory modulation and I will hold firm on this. I engaged in bilateral discussions on this with my French counterpart two weeks ago and with the Presidency and a number of other member states to impress upon them Ireland's wish not to proceed in that vein. Many of the new member states would like to see compulsory modulation but I will be holding firm on that issue.

What did the Minister's French colleague say to her?

He agreed with me.

There is widespread concern that the new French regime under President Sarkozy may be softening up French farmers for a dilution of the Common Agricultural Policy.

We had a good and constructive discussion on a number of issues. We will continue to be ad idem on many of these issues. I expressed my concerns arising from President Sarkozy’s speech and those concerns were also raised by the Taoiseach. We will continue with what we have provided for up to 2013. I agree we must always look at market responses. For example, I would like to see a 3% increase in milk quota because it reflects market needs. We can work very well with the French.

Did the Commissioner also say that?

Noxious Weed Control.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

101 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the steps her Department will take to control the spread of ragwort which is growing extensively on roadside verges and vacant land; the number of prosecutions taken in each of the past five years for failure to control ragwort; the number of convictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21799/07]

My Department has conducted public awareness campaigns for the control of noxious weeds in 2006 and in the spring and summer of this year. The campaigns were directed at landowners and users of land — mainly farmers, local authorities and developers. Campaigns consisted of the circulation of posters for display in all Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Teagasc and local authority offices countrywide, as well as in agricultural centres such as co-ops, livestock marts, merchants' premises etc. I issued press releases on the subject of noxious weeds control and placed notices in the national newspapers. These campaigns were in response to the increasing prevalence over recent years of noxious weeds, especially ragwort, on road margins, development sites and on farmed lands.

In addition to the public awareness campaigns, my Department issued notices to offenders to have weeds dealt with. These notices were issued whenever complaints were made by members of the public or as a result of inspections carried out by my Department's field officers. The control of noxious weeds has been made a cross-compliance requirement for single farm payment under good agricultural and environmental condition, which means that failure to comply with this condition may result in a reduction in the single farm payment.

While the Act makes provision for taking prosecutions against offenders, this measure has not been resorted to in recent years. The preference has been to appeal to the better nature of persons responsible for such weed infested areas to face up to their responsibility under the Act and have them controlled. Modern farming has reached a level of specialisation and intensification which makes weed control a fundamental and automatic practice. Therefore, with few exceptions, the problem of noxious weeds on farms has largely diminished. In contrast, ragwort is mainly found along the margins of roadways and railway tracks and in derelict sites.

Officials from my Department have met with the National Roads Authority and I am pleased to note that the authority has embarked on a package of initiatives for the control of noxious weeds. These initiatives consist of commissioning consultancy services to advise on appropriate procedures for dealing with noxious and invasive weed species on national roads. Specifications and method statements for treating such species will be developed through this consultancy service and issued to local authorities, which will form the basis for treatment of noxious weeds on the national roads network as part of the local authorities' routine maintenance programmes in 2008.

Farmers, developers and local authorities whose land contain ragwort should seek advice on control methods from their local Teagasc advisor or consult the Teagasc fact sheet on ragwort at www.teagasc.ie

We have heard the quintessential civil servant's answer. Every farmer takes responsibility for ragwort or any noxious weed. Nevertheless, it exists extensively throughout the country. One can have all the public awareness and information campaigns in the world, but action is needed.

Would the Minister consider funding local authorities to ensure this blight is wiped out, particularly on roadside verges? Farmers and landowners take responsibility for noxious weeks when they occur on their land.

The National Roads Authority is considering the provision of a dedicated financial allocation to local authorities to address the control of noxious weeds on approximately 5,500 km of national roads.

During the summer I saw farmers in County Galway and council workers on the Dundalk bypass hand-pulling ragwort. This was a waste of time, because the weed can be sprayed in the early spring or between September and November. I encourage landowners and local authorities to take the advice given on the Teagasc website and spray the weed in the spring or autumn. This is a perfect time of year for spraying ragwort.

What would Deputy Sargent think of that?

I thank Deputy Creed for his concern.

Council workers could then do other work during the summer months.

I understand why we need to get rid of ragwort. However, has the Minister of State informed the consultants — I am staggered that consultants must be employed to get rid of a weed — that there is a caterpillar whose only food source is ragwort? Has she ensured that the consultants understand the importance of ensuring, while the cattle are not poisoned, that the caterpillar survives?

Do data exist on the number of cattle or other farm animals affected by ragwort? We are concerned about ragwort because it is a noxious weed. While spraying can be effective it must be done repeatedly over a number of years and not merely once off. It is my understanding the spraying makes the weed more palatable so it is not without adverse consequences. The problem needs a structured approach and not mere once-off spraying.

Deputy Upton is correct. There are three reasons for dealing with noxious weeds. First, we have designated ragwort as a noxious weed because it is poisonous to animals when grazed or consumed in hay or silage; second, other noxious weeds, such as thistle and dock in grassland and wild oat in cereals, affect crop growth and consequently crop yield; third, if noxious weeds are not controlled their seeds spread to adjoining lands and cause further infestation and annoyance to neighbours. This is why farmers must work together with the National Roads Authority and with local authorities to deal with the problem on both sides of the fence.

The National Roads Authority and not the Department has commissioned a consultancy service. The consultants will advise local authorities on appropriate procedures. It is the job of local authorities to maintain margins on national roads. It is hoped the consultancy service will suggest specifications and methods for treating such species, taking the caterpillar into consideration. These specifications will be developed and issued to local authorities by the National Roads Authority and will form the basis of the treatment of noxious weeds on the national roads network.

This is a big issue for farmers. They are very concerned about it and, because of modern farming requirements, they are addressing the issue directly. I would welcome anything local authorities can do to assist in this matter. We do not want ragwort spread more widely than at present.

Pigmeat Sector.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

102 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if her attention has been drawn to the threat to the livelihood of pig farmers due to the increase in feedstuff prices; and her proposals in this regard. [21570/07]

I met representatives of the pig industry recently and they made me fully aware of the difficulties currently being experienced by those farmers involved in the industry.

There is no doubt that the conditions surrounding the availability and pricing of feed materials have changed dramatically over the last six months. A number of factors have contributed to this rise in feed prices. These factors include the increased demand for feed materials generally and from the bio-fuel industry, particularly in the USA; unfavourable weather conditions worldwide which affected many of the major cereal growing regions; and the lack of synchronisation between the GM authorisation processes in the US and the EU.

Industry sources have indicated that the demand from the bio-fuels industry has significantly reduced the availability of feed materials for pig feed. The increase in the price of wheat is of particular significance. Efforts to secure alternative supplies to compensate for the shortfall caused by the weather conditions are hampered by bio-fuel industry demands. While whole maize is considered a suitable substitute for wheat its availability and price has also been affected by the demands of the bio-fuel industry. In addition the cost of soya has been forced up because of consequential increased demand.

The cost of inputs must have a knock-on effect to the consumer. Consumers will have to pay somewhat higher prices for their food products and producers will have to strive for even further efficiency gains. That said, the current high input costs cannot be sustained longterm into the future. However, I believe that cereal production in Ireland and in the EU will increase significantly in response to the market situation. This should be facilitated by the availability of set-aside land for cultivation in 2008. I hope also that the cereal producing regions will not suffer the weather conditions that pertained this year.

Efforts to substitute whole maize for the more expensive wheat are also hampered by the lack of synchronisation in the GM authorisation processes used in the US and the EU. This asynchronisation has caused US exporters and EU importers to act with caution because the consequences of detecting traces of EU unauthorised GM events in imported consignments are that the material has to be withdrawn from market. There is a real danger here that if the Commission does not act urgently in coalescing the two authorisation systems, the US exporters will continue to look to emerging feed markets in other parts of the world thereby giving rise to serious feed problems for the EU livestock industry in the not too distant future.

However, it is in this area of making more whole maize available for pig and poultry rations that I see the greatest potential for action. Indications are that new GM maize varieties will be introduced into the US cropping pattern year on year over the next number of years. If these varieties are not authorised quickly within the EU, the feed industry here will not be able to avail of the increased quantities of whole maize. A similar situation is set to develop in the use of soya from 2009 onwards with even more serious consequences. I am pleased the Commission is addressing this issue with its recent very worthwhile publication, Economic Impact of Unapproved GMOs on EU Feed Imports and Livestock Production.

I intend to remain in close contact with the pig industry representatives.

The Minister's reply is similar to her reply to an earlier question. Does she have any additional information for the House?

I met representatives of the pig industry and I share their concerns, as do many Members of the House. We must examine many other issues apart from that of feed. Pigmeat is a good value and wholesome product and I am investing further in its promotion. I am on record that we will all have to participate to reassure pig farmers that we have an industry. Something will have to be done about getting higher prices for pigmeat so that with efficiencies at farm level farmers are recompensed for their produce.

I have three questions before I pass over to my colleagues. In regard to Herculex, do I detect from the Minister that the Government was in favour of this policy? If that is the case why did we abstain and take the slíbhín approach where we are glad the Commission is bringing it in through the back door. Is it not a fact that Government policy on GM, as enunciated by the then Minister in response to a question from Deputy Trevor Sargent this time last year, is that we support the genetic modification, subject to maintaining a commitment to food safety, on the basis of scientific risk assessment and management? On that basis, is the Government in favour of the European Union catching up with the US on synchronisation?

Getting back to home base, pig producers from west Cork and those involved in poultry and eggs said that they cannot get extra money from the multiples. The Minister must be aware of the cruel power of the multiples. Farmers are faced with higher costs as a consequence of the extra payments and are being squeezed out of business.

I decided to abstain on the vote on feed.

Because of Deputy Trevor Sargent——

I am the Minister.

——and what was in the programme for Government.

That is for growing.

I have the utmost respect for this House. The decision by Ireland to abstain on the EU Council vote on GM animal feeds is in line with that of France and Italy, which also abstained. These are major buyers of Irish produce. Had Ireland voted in favour, it would not have affected the outcome of the vote. The Government's objective is to seek to negotiate an island-wide GM free zone. It is not about banning imported GM feed, it is about not growing GM crops and not proliferating GM pollen, seed dispersal and superweeds. In line with Government policy, I have set in motion a number of other Departments to elaborate this commitment and to tease out the implications from a policy perspective. That is the Government decision.

On the issue of synchronisation, previous to this Government, as the Deputy knows, I expressed grave concerns about the need for synchronisation. Waiting for three years for something to happen is very problematic for farmers because it creates a situation whereby the feed importers are afraid of purchasing ahead of time.

Some of them will not be in business.

The Deputy is right that there are grave concerns about the pig industry. It is of significant concern that supermarkets determine the price level at which pigmeat is sold. Anyone who has gone to the butcher or to the shop will have seen how cheap pigmeat is. That is not sustainable. We must ensure that the industry is sustainable and I will do everything I can to support the pig industry. It is up to everybody to do the same.

I wish the Minister and the Ministers of State, Deputies Wallace and Sargent, well. The Minister referred to synchronisation, but she should address the inconsistency of allowing food, meat and materials into the country while denying the entry of feedstuffs.

Had the Minister scientific evidence in coming to a decision to abdicate her responsibility by not voting, because in effect it means that the Minister put the Green Party before the farmers? The Minister has kowtowed to the Green Party. She had looked for this measure but when the opportunity arose, she was unable to take it.

I call on Deputy Crawford to put his question.

I listened to the Minister's appeal for everybody to come together on this issue. That was similar to the appeals on the nitrates directive, and as a result of the implementation of that directive some of the small pig producers have gone out of business. We want action. I represent a constituency that produces the highest level of poultry and pigmeat in the country. Farmers are waiting in anxious anticipation of practical measures. I know one can say it does not affect this or that, but the millers tell me that they are not in a position to buy product as they used to be. If we cannot buy product in the US and other places, the product that is produced from that grain in some other country will replace our products and our people will eat it.

The price of feedstuff is a worldwide issue and is based on biofuels, increased population and a very competitive world market. India and China are the largest buyers of food. It is also based on weather conditions and many of the grain growers have lost their crops in desperate weather. It is on that basis that we will move ahead with the issue of setaside in 2008 for the production of cereals. On the issue of synchronisation and GM, Herculex will be passed by the Commission. There are two other varieties in the ground in the US and the process of consultation with the Europeans on recognition has not started. That is a serious issue. There is also the issue of access to maize on the basis that some of these GM products will not be available. There will be competition in the United States for biofuels initially and for farmers who feel the easier option is not to separate varieties but sell the combined product to China and India. We will work towards addressing these concerns at the beginning of next year.

Deputy Crawford is correct that the pig and poultry sectors have been very difficult because of many of these issues on world feed price markets. We will work with the industry to see what we can do in terms of supports.

I agree with the Minister that the global aspect impacts on this issue. It brings to centre stage the issue of food security and I hope the Minister will pursue this point at the CAP health check. I am appalled at the naivety of the Minister and the Minister of State with responsibility for food, Deputy Sargent, who stated the issue about voting with the French. The French are self-sufficient and they want Fortress Europe because it will drive up the price of their produce. They do not want imports. To argue that we were with the French is illogical and a disservice to Irish agriculture. On a practical issue, let me raise the spreading of pig manure and fertilisers and the application of the nitrates directive and REPS farmers. The cost base of pig producers could be reduced if they were able to use lands in a REPS scheme for the disposal of pig slurry rather than be obliged to spread it.

I must call the Minister as we are over time.

I advise the Deputy that we worked towards that and the proposal was sent to the Commission by me and two other colleagues.

The Minister must have a big postal bill because everything we have raised today is going to the Commission.

Perhaps the Deputy should go to the Commission to inform himself of what has to go to the Commission. The nitrates directive must be implemented in consultation with the Commission. I made that proposal and it was agreed but it was not accepted by the Commission. It was thrown out. Since then, the industry has been working with the Department to explore at a sectoral level how to address the nitrates directive and its imposition.

Are organic farmers included?

There are many farmers from Monaghan involved and I am sure they will be more than helpful.

Grain Storage.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

103 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason her Department did not include in the final draft of the national development plan grant aid for on-farm grain storage facilities. [21891/07]

The National Development Plan 2007-2013 provides for continued financial support for, in particular, on-farm investments. The farm improvement scheme, which was introduced by the Department on 12 July 2007, provides grant aid to farmers for the installation of grain bins and silos at a grant rate of 40% up to a maximum eligible investment ceiling of €120,000. These items were not previously eligible for grant aid under the farm waste management scheme, which closed for new applications at the end of 2006. An additional top up grant of 10% is available to eligible young farmers for the installation of these items. A substantial number of farmers have already applied for grant aid for these items since the scheme commenced and the Department is currently conducting a review of the overall grain storage.

How many staff are employed at local level by the Department to inspect and approve those facilities? In north Tipperary there are only two people to inspect and approve under the farm improvement scheme. The old scheme has more than 400 applicants before we even come to the new scheme, which will take at least six to nine months. When will the Minister provide sufficient staff to enable the farming community to draw down the grants available to them under the scheme?

We are under pressure because there was such enthusiasm for the old farm waste management scheme. We must make progress as soon as possible because the end of 2008 is the closing date. We have adopted a fast-track approach for a number of the items of interest to farmers. Over the past ten days there has been a huge increase in the number of applications and grants sanctioned. We are dealing with it to the best of our ability but we will evaluate this in the coming months.

Common Agricultural Policy.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

104 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the degree to which she has evaluated the negative impact to date of CAP reform on the industry; her expectations in respect of WTO; if her attention has been drawn to the concerns of the food producing sectors at national and European level and the increased dependence on food imports from outside Europe; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21526/07]

I do not accept that the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy has had a negative impact on the industry. On the contrary, I believe that there are and will be major benefits for producers and consumers arising out of the ongoing implementation of the reformed CAP and the wide range of measures envisaged under the national development plan.

As part of the 2003 reforms of the common agricultural policy, the introduction of the full decoupling of direct payments under the single payment scheme ensures that farmers now have the freedom to farm and that the CAP will be geared towards the demands of the market and consumers. The single payment scheme is linked to food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards. Irish farmers will receive single farm payments of €1.3 billion in 2007, while consumers will be guaranteed a supply of safe food, produced to high animal welfare and environmental standards, at reasonable cost.

Producers and consumers will also benefit from the wide range of measures provided for under the national development plan, which includes the rural development programme which was approved by the Commission in July. Total funding of €8.7 billion is provided for the agri-food sector over the period 2007 to 2013. The objectives are to improve competitiveness at farm level, promote environmental protection, develop the food processing industry and fund research and development.

My main concern in respect of the 2003 Common Agricultural Policy reform is to ensure a period of stability to allow farmers to implement the changes necessitated by decoupling and to adapt to the market needs in a stable policy environment. The 2003 CAP reform is still being implemented and further major policy change should not be contemplated at this stage.

It is in this context that the ongoing WTO negotiations represent a significant challenge. The outcome of the negotiations will determine the levels of protection and support that the EU may provide for the duration of the next agreement.

My objective in the ongoing negotiations to complete the round is to ensure that the terms of the agreement can be accommodated within the framework of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy. This represents the limit of the European Commission's negotiating mandate in these negotiations and I will continue to insist that this mandate is respected. I have consistently outlined my position in the clearest possible terms at the Council of Agriculture Ministers. I will continue to work closely with like-minded Ministers in other member states to seek support for my position. I am determined that any WTO agreement must be balanced and must not be concluded at the expense of EU and Irish agriculture.

For the future, the question of food security may indeed be an issue. It is worth noting, however, that the EU is by far the largest player on the world market and while imports of certain commodities into the Community may have increased, Ireland will remain a significant net exporter.

Does the Minister realise many farmers are completely disoriented and leaving the business? I came across a beef farmer last week who had fattened 300 cattle. He is now in New Zealand for the winter because he realises there is no point. Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy has damaged the industry. Does the Minister not accept that point?

I do not accept it. We can deal with the negative when it comes to farming and agriculture but agriculture is still the bedrock of this country.

The Minister will soon have more Greens than farmers.

That is an inappropriate remark.

The Minister should ignore comments that are not in order.

Look at the dairy industry. Last year, Deputy Crawford was roaring at me that it had been decimated and people were leaving in their droves. What is the situation now?

The Minister's actions did not help Lakeland Dairies.

I reformed the quota allocation system and now there is an invigorated industry that wants to drive on. That is what we should do instead of putting agriculture down.

What about the mushroom industry?

That is not to say there will not be difficulties but I have invested a huge amount in the national development plan to drive the industry forward and prepare it for the next reform, giving it the necessary tools to compete.

What is the Minister doing with Mr. Mandelson?

Beating him around the head.

I take the view that the glass is half full but there is a trend in Irish agriculture of flight from the land. This is largely due to global trends.

I am sure the Deputy is about to ask a question.

The WTO is influenced mainly by global corporations and that has an effect on small Irish family farms. Will the Minister bear that in mind when she attends WTO talks or Council of Ministers' meetings?

The Deputy should get a star for that.

Latitude is shown to all new Deputies.

The Deputy is right. I am concerned that we support the diversification that is taking place within the European Union, particularly here in Ireland, when it comes to discussions at WTO level. I have expressed and will continue to express grave concerns about the impact of an unbalanced agreement and have pursued this vigorously. The Deputy is right that an unbalanced agreement would have catastrophic implications for European agriculture and for Ireland. I agree with the Deputy's views that we must have a balanced approach with reciprocity. Non-trade concerns must also be taken into consideration if we are to have an agreement.

Animal Diseases.

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

105 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the latest information available to her Department on the outbreak of bluetongue in Britain; the steps she is taking to ensure that the disease does not spread to Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21787/07]

The first case of bluetongue ever to be recorded in Britain was confirmed on Saturday, 22 September on a farm near Ipswich in Suffolk. Since then several further cases have been detected on a number of other premises in England. The strain has been confirmed as serotype 8, the same strain as has been circulating in northern Europe since August 2006.

On 28 September, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Britain confirmed an outbreak of bluetongue and immediately put in place the control measures required by Council Directive 2000/75/EC. As a result of the foot and mouth outbreak in Britain, there is already a ban on the importation from Britain of live animals.

There are no imports of susceptible livestock from restricted areas in Europe and all susceptible species imported from bluetongue-free areas, apart from the UK, are tested post-import and all have been negative for the disease. In view of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, FMD, exports of livestock from Britain are currently banned. If and when the FMD-related export restrictions on British animals are lifted, consideration will be given to introducing post-import tests on susceptible animals coming from Britain.

Following the outbreaks of bluetongue in northern Europe, which began in August 2006, my Department embarked on a proactive surveillance programme that involved post-import blood testing of susceptible animals from affected countries and the random sampling of herds in counties in the south and south east in which wind-blown midges might have made landfall, if blown here. In addition to the ongoing testing of animals from bluetongue-free areas in Europe, my Department has engaged the Department of Zoology at NUI Galway to assist in carrying out a comprehensive surveillance survey of the midges that potentially spread the virus. In addition, my Department's laboratory service has been testing thousands of blood samples for evidence of bluetongue since earlier this year. My Department has also updated its contingency plans and legislative basis, and has increased awareness by providing advice leaflets for farmers and veterinary professionals as well as having organised an industry seminar on the disease in July.

The day-to-day management of the disease threat and the contingency arrangements is undertaken by the management committee of my Department's national disease control centre, which has available to it a range of expert veterinary and scientific advice. This committee, whose meetings I have regularly chaired, has been meeting frequently in response to the heightened disease threats posed by both FMD and bluetongue.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The use of an outside advisory group with a range of disciplines is also part of my Department's contingency plan. This approach was used in relation to FMD and avian flu in the past. Responsibility for taking decisions on the appropriate contingency arrangements to be applied would continue to be mine and that of my Department.

There is also a commitment in the programme for Government to establish Biosecurity Ireland, as a separate division within my Department, whose remit will be to "ensure the exclusion, eradication or effective management of risks posed by diseases and pests to the economy, the environment and to human and animal health". This will enable my Department to co-ordinate even more effectively the existing breadth of expertise already available. As with all commitments in the programme, work on its implementation is continuing and I expect that it will be significantly progressed in the coming months.

I emphasise, however, that I am absolutely satisfied the measures introduced to date have been taken on proper veterinary and scientific advice and that they are proportionate to the current risk. As that risk is reassessed, I will not hesitate to introduce such additional measures as are considered appropriate to any increased risk.

I thank the Minister for her reply and I acknowledge that diseases such as bluetongue are, to a large extent, beyond the control of any individual or committee. In fairness, it must also be acknowledged that Ireland has been successful in so far containing this outbreak of foot and mouth disease. I wish to broaden the question, however, because there are a number of other animal-born diseases involving intermediate factors, like midges, that undoubtedly will become more relevant as time goes on. There is an inevitability about that. While we have been lucky with regard to bluetongue disease and effective on foot and mouth disease, I wish to ask about the future management of risks associated with other types of animal disease. On a number of occasions I have raised the need for a structured bio-security unit to be headed by an individual who will take overall responsibility for co-ordinating it. My point is based on the New Zealand experience. That island nation is dependent on agriculture and is very like Ireland in many ways. New Zealand has stringent controls on bio-security so a similar situation should be applied here.

Given what we know about recent events concerning foot and mouth disease at the Pirbright laboratory, should we be examining the possibility of putting in place our own testing facilities? I realise the cost and consequences arising from such a step but it might be worthwhile given the concerns that have not been alleviated by the second outbreak in Pirbright.

Under the programme for Government we will introduce a separate division to establish Bio-Security Ireland and we will proceed on that basis. The Deputy is right in saying that over the next few years there will be considerably more new diseases, but expertise is being provided to deal with them. Accordingly, in due course, we will have to equip ourselves on a scientific basis, in consultation with farming bodies. The Deputy's concern about Pirbright, given that it is an EU reference laboratory, is challenging and we must learn lessons from the situation. On that basis, the State Laboratory has evaluated its own bio-security measures. We are lucky to have a brand new, state-of-the-art laboratory available. The Deputy is correct in saying that the outcomes of the Pirbright investigation may pose challenges for us all. It is not for me to say whether Pirbright will continue to be the EU reference laboratory, but I am sure the EU and the UK will undertake a major evaluation of that issue.

Has the Minister's Department considered using a vaccine for bluetongue? I understand it has been successfully developed in other countries, including South Africa. Has the Minister had consultations with live cattle exporters, particularly to valuable markets in Spain and Italy? Exporters may have problems in accessing those markets via France where extensive areas are now closed off to animal movements. We need to examine that matter quickly. Will the establishment of Bio-Security Ireland require legislation?

Will the Minister provide an update on what progress has been made, if any, towards an all-Ireland approach on this matter? I appreciate the great work that was done on foot and mouth disease between both Departments. As regards animal diseases, there is nothing to be lost by having a single approach, which should be up and running as quickly as possible.

The Deputy is correct that the synergies North and South have been beneficial and an all-island approach is the most appropriate way to go. I will meet my Northern Executive colleague in the next two or three weeks. Meanwhile, senior officials have been meeting on this matter in preparation for an all-island animal health approach, which is the best way forward.

There is a vaccine for type 1, but this is type 8. We are currently arranging the production of that vaccine, which has been raised at the European Council with Commissioner Kyprianou. It is hoped to provide a vaccine by spring of next year. We would then have to consider the issue of vaccination from a trade perspective but that is in the future.

As regards the export of live animals, there has been much consultation between the industry and the Department. At the moment, our competitors have exactly the same problem the Deputy mentioned in that they cannot come from eastern Europe to those markets. There has been no disturbance of trade so far, but we will keep in touch with the industry and vice versa to ensure that our exports continue.

What about legislation for Bio-Security Ireland?

I do not anticipate legislation.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.