Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 4 May 2017

Vol. 949 No. 2

Other Questions

Environmental Policy

Mick Wallace


7. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the environmental assessments that his Department carried out into the environmental impacts of Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025 (details supplied); his views on the plans' aims to increase the State's output of beef and milk; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20868/17]

Very often when the Minister is talking about agriculture, he uses the phrase carbon neutrality and the word "sustainable". According to kildarestreet.com, he has used the word sustainable 328 times in the Dáil in the last year alone, surpassed only by the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney. The Minister, Deputy Michael Creed, is in third place for the use of the phrase "carbon neutrality". He is doing well. In December, I asked the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, to define both terms, and he could not. The definition ultimately approved for carbon neutrality with regard to agriculture will have to be robust on scientific, technical and environmental grounds. In his explanation of the phrase "sustainable food production means", he used the word sustainable to define it. I would appreciate it if the Minister, Deputy Michael Creed, could answer my question without using either of the terms this time.

If I use the term as frequently as the Deputy attributes it to me, and I do not doubt that - I have no doubt his researchers do great work, and kildarestreet.com is such a reputable source of information - I would say to the farming industry outside to take a bow, because it very seldom gets the credit for the work that it puts in and its commitment to reaching the new standards and measures that will be required of it in delivering a more sustainable agricultural product.

My Department is committed to ensuring that the agriculture sector continues to grow sustainably so that Ireland can play its part in meeting the increasing global food demand while having regard to Ireland’s environmental obligations. It is independently and internationally recognised that Ireland’s grass-based systems are very resource-efficient food production systems. As our largest indigenous industry, it is hugely important that we ensure the continued development of our agrifood sector. Notwithstanding, there are background challenges to producing more sustainably while safeguarding our biodiversity, maintaining water quality and mitigating our emissions.

Food Wise 2025, which has superseded Food Harvest 2020, sets out a cohesive, strategic plan for the sustainable development of the agrifood sector over the next decade. Food Wise includes more than 400 specific recommendations, spread across the cross-cutting themes of sustainability, innovation, human capital, market development and competitiveness, as well as specific sectoral recommendations.  Sustainability was the brief for one of the five core subgroups of the Food Wise 2025 committee. The projections in the report focus on the value of exports and production, rather than simply production increases and were developed giving full recognition that there is increasing pressure on global agricultural resources and the environment.  Food Wise 2025 includes clear and comprehensive commitments to managing the projected growth in the sector in a sustainable way. There are 60 individual actions related to sustainability which aim to allow the sector to reach its growth potential, while protecting and improving the environment, by managing finite resources in the most efficient and effective manner.

In order to ensure that environmental considerations were at the heart of Food Wise 2025, an environmental analysis, which represented both a strategic environmental assessment and an appropriate assessment, was conducted in tandem with the development of the Food Wise 2025 strategy. This analysis was carried out by an independent team of consultants and involved stakeholder and public consultation throughout the process and my Department chaired a steering group with representatives from Teagasc, the EPA and Bord Bia to oversee the process.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The analysis included a particular focus on environmental parameters, biodiversity, climate change and water quality and sets out a range of mitigating actions.

There is a strong commitment in the report to measurement and monitoring the sustainability credentials of the sector. As part of the implementation phase of Food Wise, the environmental sustainability committee was established. My Department is working closely with relevant actors to ensure appropriate monitoring across all sectors of the agrifood industry on the environmental impacts of the strategy. This implementation process includes evaluation and assessment of the delivery of sustainability and the mitigation actions.

Meeting annual mitigation targets in the second half of the 2013 to 2020 compliance period under the 2009 EU Effort Sharing Decision, which does not take into account the limited cost-effective mitigation options available in the sector, will be one of the more significant challenges for the sector. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has projected that Ireland will fall short of its 2020 target.

The extent of the challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in line with our EU commitments, is understood by Government, as reflected in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015 and the national mitigation plan, which is currently being prepared.

Ireland has adopted a whole of Government approach to developing climate policy. Officials from my Department continue to work with other Departments and have extensively engaged with the Commission in order to ensure that EU climate and food policies to 2030 and beyond recognise the reality of these global challenges.

The Minister said there is a strong commitment in Food Wise 2025 to measure and monitor the sustainability credentials of the sector. He used the words "sustainable" and "carbon neutral", even though he never defined them with regard food production. He regularly uses the words "sustainable growth" but this is not defined either. A chapter of the national mitigation plan, entitled An Approach to Carbon Neutrality for Agriculture, Forest and Land Use Sectors, refers to the need to focus on balancing the control of agricultural emissions with the economic and social objective of promoting the sustainable development of a rural economy. It states also that in aiming to achieve this balance, and in keeping with the high level objective set out in the National Policy Position on Climate Action and Low Carbon Development, sustainable food production should not be compromised. In plain English, does this not mean that the Minister knows that emissions will increase but that he is putting short-term economic objectives before the preservation of the future of the human race? Is that not true?

That is not true. We have few natural resources and one of the great natural resources we have is grass. A grass-based production system is the most carbon-efficient way to produce dairy or beef. If one looks at those two sectors in particular, we are the most carbon-efficient producer of dairy on the planet. New Zealand and Ireland are the most carbon-efficient. In the European Union, we are the fifth most carbon-efficient producer of beef. The logic of what the Deputy is saying is that we should dismantle our natural advantages in having a sustainable production system, and bear this in mind with regard to our competitor countries on the market. I know the Deputy has a jaundiced view of the market but he was in it himself once upon a time. In the Netherlands, for example, a premium is paid for cows that are outside for a couple of hours a day. Ours are outside 24-7, for almost 365 days a year.

That is because our system is sustainable.

Deputy Wallace made reference to Food Wise 2025. I chair the implementation committee of that on a monthly basis, and in fact I chaired a session of it today, when we had the dairy industry in to discuss the area of infant formula. One of the critical elements of that industry is its badge of sustainability. It is fully signed up members of the orange and green project, for example, which is committed to meeting the highest standards of sustainability because that is what the consumer and retailers want and what Irish farmers are responding to. I appreciate that Deputy Wallace and I engage in what may be called a "dialogue of the deaf" but I am anxious that people know the bone fides of Irish agriculture, what it has achieved to date and what it is committed to achieving. It is unfair to our agricultural industry to repeatedly, and without foundation, point the finger at it as if it was a blackguard in terms of the environmental challenge we face. It is up for the battle. It has done an awful lot to date and is committed to meeting the requirements that we face. The challenges that we face are two-fold, as recognised in the Paris Accord. They include a growing global population and climate change and reducing our carbon. We have a food production system that is carbon efficient and will become more efficient.

I think the Deputy is right to talk about the dialogue of the deaf, because when I call time here very many people do not hear.

I am looking forward to getting as much time as the Minister got.

Can you hear us, Deputy Wallace?

I can hear both the Ceann Comhairle and the Minister, and I am looking forward to getting the same amount of time as the Minister got.

Methane from cows and other animals is problematic. I do not want to demolish farming in Ireland. I, as much as anyone else here, have argued that we should be investing in sustainable industry in Ireland more than anything else. I come from a farming background, in case it is forgotten, and I know a bit about farming.

The Deputy is something of an urban cowboy these days.

I know more about farming than one might think. We have a problem in the area. I disagree with serious expansion, and I do not agree with increasing the dairy herd by 50%, which will lead to an increase in the beef herd. We cannot have milk without calves. Forgetting about the environment for a moment, from an economic point of view we know for a fact that Britain will import more cheap beef from Brazil. It is not as good as ours but it will be very cheap. The harvest will be gone. We are looking for trouble in over producing beef. I am not seeking to diminish, but I want us to stop increasing production and causing extra problems, especially around emissions.

What is the Minister's response to An Taisce's statement on this? It states:

Like Food Wise 2025, the strategic environmental assessment is extremely lacking in quantification of baseline data or of any projections compared to a baseline. Specifically, no baseline emission data to air or water was provided for the agricultural sector, which would be essential for proper assessment of the cumulative pollutant impacts on the atmosphere and waterways resulting from the greatly increased ruminant production and fertilizer use.

I have said in my response that in the context of compiling Food Wise 2025 that we appointed consultants in the area of environmental analysis. Our objective is sustainable intensification and to increase our output because we have a natural advantage. The Deputy stumbled when he said that beef with a far higher carbon footprint would displace us on the UK market shelf.

I am not arguing about what the Brazilians do.

If there is a market demand that our farmers can meet, but in so meeting can do so in the most carbon efficient way, it is defensible, in the context of meeting the challenge to meet a growing global population, to do it in the most carbon efficient way.


It could be argued theoretically that if we want the lowest carbon footprint that we should have no bovines at all. That is pie in the sky. We could have carbon efficient dairy and carbon efficient beef.

We are increasing meat production----

Please, restrain yourself.

Of course we are, because our ambition is to displace beef production with a far higher carbon footprint, because that is what the consumer is increasingly looking for.

What about cereal?

Cereal opens up the ground and releases carbon----

Cereal is not as problematic as animal production.

We can abandon the rules altogether and have a free-for-all if the Deputies want to, but-----

That is not a bad idea.

It probably is not but I am afraid I do not have authorisation to do that.

Live Exports

Charlie McConalogue


8. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details of new rules for the movement of cattle being purchased in marts for live export to Northern Ireland; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that these changes are affecting the trade in live cattle to Northern Ireland; if he will review the restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21037/17]

This question concerns the more restrictive animal movement rules introduced by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for the purposes of cattle going for live export into Northern Ireland. Can the Minister update the House on those increased restrictions? Does the Minister accept that it has been having an impact on live exports of cattle to Northern Ireland, particularly in border marts? Can the Minister update us on whether or not the Department has resolved IT issues which meant that the data on display in marts did not properly reflect whether or not an animal had been at a mart within the previous 29 days and therefore was ineligible for live export to Northern Ireland?

I am sure the Ceann Comhairle will indulge me-----

I have been indulging the Deputy up until this.

-----if I acknowledge the outgoing president and the president-elect of Macra na Feirme, Mr. James Healy, who is a Cork man and happens to be a consituent of mine. I would like to wish him well during his presidency.

It is a requirement under EU law that cattle exported from Ireland within the EU (including to Northern Ireland) must complete a residency period on a holding prior to export.  The animal must have been resident on this holding within 29 days of moving to an assembly centre for export.  Subsequent to moving from the holding, an animal may move one time through a mart and-or one time through a dealer’s holding, in that order.  No further moves are permitted.

The Department’s AIM computer system carries out verification checks on compliance with the residency requirement.  Cattle presented for export that do not meet the eligibility requirements are rejected by the system.  A small number of minor technical and other anomalies that were highlighted by exporters in relation to the operation of the AIM verification have been addressed, and the new arrangements are operating with minimal disruption.

I called a meeting with live exporters last month at which I stressed that my Department considers the live export sector to be of great importance, particularly given Brexit and the expansion of the dairy herd. Earlier this year, I reduced the veterinary inspection fees payable on live exports of younger bovines in order to remove the disproportionate impact of these fees on exports of calves relative to older animals.   The ongoing search for new third country markets is a priority for my Department, and last month I outlined a plan to increase international market access for Irish food and drink exports. I welcome the fact that exports of live cattle to date in 2017 have increased by 40% compared to the same period last year.

I thank the Minister for his response, and I join him in welcoming Mr. Healy here today with his colleagues and congratulate him on his election. It was a competitive election, fought by Ms Odile Evans as well. I wish Mr. Healy very well for his term ahead, and I have no doubt it will be successful. I also commend his predecessor, Mr. Seán Finan, for his term as well.

I ask the Minister to be absolutely clear as to whether the data on recent movements and on whether an animal is eligible for live exports is available on mart boards from the Department. There has been an issue for farmers who were buying animals in marts after this restriction was brought in where the information available from the Department to the mart was not showing the fact that an animal may have been in another mart within the previous 30 days. It was only after those animals were bought and went through the veterinary checks that it was discovered that they were not eligible. That was creating a real difficulty. Can the Minister please clarify if that has now been resolved?

My information is that the new check on the residency requirement was implemented by the Department on the AIM system from 23 January and switched off on 27 January for a number of reasons, including the fact that some parties claimed they had insufficient notice and that some technical issues came to light. The issues were rectified and, following the issue of new trader notices, the check was switched on again on AIM on 3 April. Apart from some complaints in January, from some marts and some dealers and exporters about lack of notice, little feedback has been received from the industry regarding any negative effect of the new check on the 30-day requirements on exports to Northern Ireland since then.

Last month, I met people involved in live exports to Northern Ireland and further afield and we had a very useful and frank discussion. This issue came up and I understood that, while it had caused problems in the past, the issues were now substantially resolved and I have not had any further contact on the matter. The level of exports, and the substantial increase in exports of both calves and older animals, are to be welcomed.

I concur with the Minister on the importance of live exports and it is incumbent on us to do everything we can to ensure services are in place to facilitate them. I welcome the fact that live exports are up this year and I welcome the reduction by the Minister of veterinary fees on calves. Given the success of that, I suggest the Minister look at removing the veterinary fee altogether as it is a barrier and an additional cost to live exports. It is important that live exports are there as an alternative and to ensure there is competition in the market and such a move would encourage it. It is in the Minister's power to do this.

As regards movements through marts, to qualify for the quality assurance bonus under the QPS system in factories, animals have had to spend a minimum of 70 days on the most recent farm and are restricted to a maximum of four movements. That has impacted on mart trade so could the Minister look at the issue? It is not a necessary requirement but it does make it more difficult for cattle going through marts, as well as ruling them out of the QPS bonus.

The restrictions on animal movement and the length of time spent on their last holding are demanded by retailers. A review has been carried out recently by Bord Bia of the eligibility criteria for quality assurance payments and this should make it administratively easier for farmers but a lot of quality assurance payments are driven by retail and consumer demands over food safety.

I do not have any plans to revisit the fees on exports. It is reasonable that the Department should seek to recover its veterinary costs by way of a fee. We have an avenue for consultation with live exporters and it is an industry in regard to which we are obliged, for many reasons such as animal welfare and market demands, to operate to the highest standards. I am pleased to say that those involved in the live export trade do not just meet EU requirements but EU-plus requirements.

The Minister said a review of the quality assurance scheme was under way. We never needed the quality assurance scheme as much as we need it now. To encourage farmers to participate fully in the scheme, all animals which come from a quality assured farm should receive some level of bonus. At the moment the scheme is restricted to certain grades of animals that are slaughtered. McDonalds uses the quality assurance scheme to advertise its food and it creates a huge boost to its sales but the farmer who sells that quality assured beef receives no bonus. It is time all animals from a quality assured farm qualified for some bonus under the scheme.

This is an issue between the producer and the processor and is not an issue in which the Department is directly involved but I am aware that it is an issue in which farm organisations have been involved and that it has been the subject of negotiations between processors and Bord Bia, which facilitates the QPS scheme. I take note of what the Deputy says, however, and I will bear it in mind.

Agriculture Schemes

Bobby Aylward


9. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will consider increasing the level of direct support for the suckler cow herd to €200 per cow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21065/17]

I ask the Minister for Agriculture; Food and the Marine if he will consider increasing the level of direct support for the suckler cow herd to €200 per cow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. I have spoken to the Minister on several occasions on this. I reckon money will be left over from Pillar 2 that will not be spent on other schemes so, if there is a surplus, will the Minister consider €300 per cow up to the first 30 cows, in line with our policy of at least €200 per cow up to the same limit?

Ireland has supported the greater market orientation of the CAP over recent reforms, including by the decoupling of payments from production, because farmers' freedom to respond to the demands of the market is vital for the long-term development of the sector, as set out in Food Wise 2025.

This approach to the reform of the CAP was recognised as being the most suitable approach to take, on the basis that the best interests of farmers were served by allowing them the flexibility to calibrate production to market demand without compromising income from the basic payment scheme.

Any provision of coupled support for suckler farmers under Pillar 1 would require a redistribution of direct payments between farmers and this would involve a linear cut across payment to all BPS beneficiaries. It would also require beneficiaries to maintain animals in order to obtain the premium, even in circumstances where supply and demand factors were exerting downward pressure on prices. There is also some evidence to suggest that the necessity to keep animals to obtain a premium had a negative impact on quality, with the focus turning to farming the premium.

These are issues that were well rehearsed in the run-up to the last and previous CAP reforms, and while there are counter arguments, on balance the judgment was that payments should be decoupled from production.

In relation to funding under Pillar 2 of the CAP, the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, is the current main support for the suckler sector and provides farmers with some €300 million of funding over the next six years. I will continue to support this programme through the lifetime of the current rural development programme, RDP. However, any increase in the payment under the BDGP would require approval from the European Commission. This would be extremely difficult in the context of an innovative scheme which has undergone an approval process relatively recently. Even if it were possible to obtain such approval, it would be necessary to require farmers to undertake additional actions to justify any additional payment, and it would make the scheme more complex and compliance more difficult.

 On 13 April, I announced that the beef data and genomics programme will be reopened to beef suckler farmers who are not already part of the scheme. This scheme, BDGP II, will also provide for six years of payments to farmers for completion of actions which deliver accelerated genetic improvement in the Irish national herd and improvement of its environmental sustainability.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Payment rates and actions for participants in BDGP II will be the same as those in the original scheme, with the exception that the training and carbon navigator actions must be completed by 31 October 2017.

I am delighted to say that provision has been made for new entrants to suckler farming in the scheme and it is these farmers who will drive the future of the national herd. Suckler farmers also receive support from a variety of other supports under the RDP, notably GLAS, ANCs and knowledge transfer groups.

The administrative burden and low returns of the Government's new €52 million beef data and genomics programme are undermining this vital industry as the scheme is running at 30% behind its participation target, due a lot of issues with red tape. The original target was 35,000 but fewer than 24,500 have signed up. Does the Minister agree that the 35,000 farmers' enrolment target is not attainable and an underspend is going to happen? This is the money which I reckon will be left over.

The beef industry is the cornerstone of Irish agriculture. It employs more people than any other sector and is worth over €2 billion a year. Ireland's best asset for beef production is our 1.1 million beef cow herd, kept on approximately 75,000 farms. The genomics money is not going to be used as it is not reaching its target.

The Minister is going to open it again; it is still not reaching it. I gave the figures, showing that it is behind. I believe money will be left over. We want to use up all this money and we want to keep this vital industry alive. The only way we can keep it alive is by direct payments. The average beef suckler herd would be 22. If the Minister looked at providing €200 for the first 30 cows with the money that is left over, it would go a long way to help the beef farmer and keep the beef industry alive.

I call Deputy Eugene Murphy on the same matter.

I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for giving me the opportunity to support my colleague, Deputy Aylward.

Virtually every week I meet suckler farmers who tell me they will not be able to keep going. Veterinary costs have risen considerably, and red tape and regulations are affecting them. Those people are producing top-class stock and we need to keep them. Considering the good work the Minister is doing on the export trade, we need all those cattle, but they need to be of good quality. Deputy Aylward's question is very relevant. We do not want to lose those good breeders from the system.

I acknowledge both Deputies' genuine concern about how to deliver best for the beef industry. However, unfortunately there are no easy answers. Under the rural development programme, while we have reopened BDGP, we will spend all of the €300 million. Not only will we spend all the €300 million under BDGP, we will spend the entire envelope under the rural development programme. That gives rise to very interesting challenges in the context of the Deputies' proposal. There is no easy way out of this. Irrespective of whether it is €200 for every cow or the tapered programme involving the first 30 cows, it has to come from some other area of funding. If they are serious about this, they need to either identify the schemes they want to close off in order to fund it or they need to come out straight and say they want to take from the basic payments of hill sheep farmers, organic farmers-----

The money is unspent.

-----or other small farmers to give it to a particular sector.

The money is unspent.

The Deputy knows that is not feasible and will not happen. I would not lightly propose such a linear cut. The Deputy knows the difficulty we face in getting a linear cut in respect of the national reserve for new entrants. The truth is that there is no headroom in respect of the rural development programme. The only other way to do it is to cut the basic payment. Alternatively the Deputy may be proposing an Exchequer-funded scheme. That funding is not there but we then run into state-aid rules.

The suckler herd is a bigger problem.

Brexit is another issue coming down the line and the beef sector is the most exposed to Brexit with 50% of all Irish beef exported to the UK. The negotiations may take a year or two years and the beef sector will be hardest hit, especially the suckler herd. Teagasc has advised that €4.50 per kg is needed for the survival of the beef industry here. At the moment one would be lucky to get €4 for top quality beef - €3.80 or €3.75 is typical - leaving us short. The beef industry will not survive without some direct payments for it.

The genomics programme is not working. It is half way there but it is not achieving the target the Minister is setting. The Minister has to look at this other thing. I am asking him to keep an open mind on reviewing it.

I have an open mind on it, but the Deputy is proposing a coupled payment.

The history of coupled payments is that they incentivise more production. However, more production will drive down the value.

That will be three more than we have.

In two successive rounds of CAP reform we have moved away from coupled payments to decoupled payments and provided payments to things such as improving the genetic merit of the herd. Payments for further environmental measures such as GLAS, AEOS, ANC, knowledge transfer to improve farmers' knowledge on-----

It is not getting to where the money is needed.

I appreciate support for this. However, by and large people who might know better than both of us would not support a coupled payment that would incentivise numbers rather than incentivise quality. I am serious about this. If the Deputy is proposing this in a rational economic way, he has to face up to the fact that there is no headroom in the rural development programme and the only way to fund it is by cutting the basic payment of other farmers and that is not feasible.

Questions Nos. 10 and 11 replied to with Written Answers.

Pesticide Use

Mick Wallace


12. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to support a ban on the use of herbicides and pesticides in ecological focus areas (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20867/17]

I find I am in agreement with the Minister there. There is no point in incentivising overproduction.

The definition of sustainable is "able to be maintained at a particular level without causing damage to the environment". In 2013 the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine made efforts to block a ban on pesticides within the EU, linked to the collapse in the bee population in Europe. After a meeting with a delegation from Monsanto was arranged in September 2016 at Monsanto's request, the Minister also reversed his Department's July 2016 decision that Ireland would prohibit all pre-harvest use of glyphosate on food crops and allow it only for weed control in non-food crops. Has the Department carried out any environmental impact assessments to support these decisions?

A delegated Act has been recently adopted by the EU Commission which proposes 14 changes pertaining to the basic payment and greening schemes. This Act is currently with the European Parliament for review. This legislative process was commenced to try to reduce the complexity of regulations for farmers and to make schemes less bureaucratic and more streamlined to administer.

As part of this Act the Commission has introduced a proposal to ban the use of plant-protection products on ecological focus areas. In Ireland this proposed ban would relate to land lying fallow, catch crops and nitrogen-fixing crops. This ban has been opposed by Ireland along with 18 other member states.

For my Department, the main concern relates to nitrogen-fixing crops and specifically beans, a substantial number of which are grown in the Deputy's constituency. In effect, the proposed ban would make it more difficult for growers to produce an economically viable crop of beans. In addition, farmers growing beans but not using beans as part of their ecological focus area would not be subject to this proposed ban. Potentially we could therefore have two standards for growing the crop within the State with attendant issues relating to scheme controls.

Fundamentally, the simplification process was not intended to place an increased burden on farmers and administrators. My Department's view is that this proposal would lead to such an increased burden.

It is important to clarify that the current cross-compliance rules that relate to the use of plant-protection products ensure that such products are used correctly on all crops. My Department ensures compliance with these regulations by means of regular notifications to farmers, such as the recently published cross-compliance booklet, and by means of on-farm inspection.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He is making Monsanto's argument there. He can do it any way he likes, but we are reneging on our environmental responsibilities.

The scale and intensity of fertiliser, herbicide and pesticide use in the EU's arable farming sector has resulted in extensive biodiversity loss, water pollution and soil degradation in many parts of Europe. Under the ecological focus area scheme, Europe's farmers were obliged to dedicate a minimum of 5% of their arable space to EFAs. The Minister is now arguing nonsensically that these areas may be sprayed with pesticides and herbicides even though the whole point of the EFA scheme was to ensure that at least some area of land was free of these intensive farming practices and chemicals.

I do not know how the Minister can make that argument. Why did they come up with the 5% scheme in the first place, if we are going to ignore it? We are not putting by 5% of land that is free of these chemicals. At the behest of Monsanto, we are saying, "Ah, we'll ignore it and keep going. As long as Monsanto keeps making money, sure it'll be all grand."

We are trying to avoid having different rules apply to the same crop. The Deputy should bear this in mind given what he said about sustainability.

We are a net importer of protein crops and beans are one of the areas in which we can cultivate a protein crop as an import substitute. Bear in mind that we import very substantial amounts because we are a net importer, particularly for the ruminant feed business. What this proposal would result in is an undermining of the commercial viability of our own protein crops and a situation whereby two sets of regulations would apply, one for ecologically-focused areas and a different set for the non-ecologically-focused area. It is nonsensical. For that reason, it has been opposed by not just Ireland but by 18 other member states. There is a certain logic to it.

The logic is Monsanto's. The Minister is moving the goalposts and defining the rules drawn up by the EU. Putting aside protecting even 5% of our land, is it a fact that according to the 2016 assessment of the EPA, agriculture was responsible for 53% of river pollution. That is mostly due to chemicals and fertilisers. We can ignore this and ignore what is coming down the tracks. We can ask what is economically viable and what is good for us economically, see where the money is, all get richer and all be grand. However, there is another day and a future ahead of us which we are ignoring. I do not describe myself as a mad green. I am at least as interested in farming as the Minister. I believe we should make sure that farming will be a powerful industry in this country in the years ahead. I want to enhance it and strengthen it in a way that will not damage the environment at the same time. That is all.

We share that objective, but we must do so in a practical way that works. We must have an industry that is commercially viable. Bearing in mind that we have a small indigenous population, if we are to sustain the industry economically, it is export-oriented-----

And break the environmental rules doing it.

No. We are not. I have dealt with that issue. It is illogical to go about the objective they seek to pursue here in the manner they are pursuing it. What it would mean is that our protein crops would be made so unmanageable that we would effectively have to get out of that area. We would be then more dependent on imported proteins with a far higher carbon footprint.

I do not agree.

We will move on to what will be our last question, Question No. 13 in the name of Deputy Thomas Pringle.

Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement

Thomas Pringle


13. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the lifting of tariffs on lobster and scallops imported from Canada under the recent EU-Canada trade deal; the impact the lifting of tariffs will have on the prices fishermen in Ireland will get for their catch; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21136/17]

This question relates to the eminent adoption of the CETA trade agreement, the removal of tariffs on the importation of live lobster and live scallops from Canada contained in that agreement and the potential impact that could have on lobster prices in Ireland.

Free trade agreements are very important to Ireland, given our status as a small, open exporting economy. The negotiation of access to new markets historically has been a big driver of economic development, particularly in the food sector. I believe that this will continue to be the case in the future, and will be crucial to the achievement of the objectives outlined in Food Wise 2025.

Canada is a sizeable market with high purchasing power and is the most developed economy with which the EU has negotiated a free trade agreement so far. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, with Canada will restore the level playing field for European businesses in Canada in comparison to Canada’s North American Free Trade Agreement partners, who have benefitted from preferential treatment in Canada since 1994.

In relation to seafood, I am satisfied that CETA represents an overall balanced agreement.  Both the EU and Canada will fully eliminate all tariffs on seafood products. Some 76.4% of Canada’s imports from the EU already enjoy a most favoured nation tariff of 0%, and Canada agreed to eliminate the remaining tariffs upon entry into force of CETA. The EU agreed to eliminate 95.5% of its tariffs on these products upon entry into force of CETA and 4.5% of the tariffs within three, five or seven years.

In 2016, Ireland exported €4.2 million worth of seafood to Canada, while we imported €2.5 million.  With the elimination of tariffs, there is an opportunity for Ireland’s seafood producers to further develop exports to Canada.

 In relation to lobster, I understand almost all lobster caught by Ireland’s inshore fishermen are exported to EU markets.  The market price is thus likely to continue to be determined by EU markets.  I understand that buyers recognise lobster of EU origin as a separate and higher-value seafood product than Canadian or US lobster.  CETA is unlikely to affect this price differential.

In relation to scallop, I understand that prices vary from one year to the next depending on world production.  World demand has been growing in recent years, particularly in Asia, and that growth has been forecast to continue.  In those circumstances, market prices for scallop should remain healthy.

The EU already imports more than 8,000 tonnes of lobster from the US, which has a tariff regime of somewhere between 8% and 15% at the moment. A zero-tariff regime on the importation of lobster from Canada will directly impact Irish fisherman in terms of the prices they can achieve for lobster. If the amount of lobster being imported into the EU increases significantly because the price is reduced, it will have an effect on the prices fishermen can achieve for their catches. I would love to see how the Minister can justify the assertion that it will not have any impact on prices when the logic is that it will increase supply from that market. Currently, Canada does not import lobster into the EU because of the tariffs. With the removal of the tariffs, a huge market will open up for Canada. In many cases, given that the purchase of food is price-driven, the market share that Canada will achieve will be driven by price. I would love to see what the Minister's justification is for it not having any impact.

The Minister to conclude.

As an exporting nation that needs to get to market more than 90% of everything we produce, whether dairy, beef or seafood, trade agreements are beneficial to us, though not at any cost. Balanced and negotiated trade agreements have benefitted us enormously. The market access we have got as part of EU membership has been enormously beneficial to us. Therefore, I am in favour of trade agreements in principle. The devil is in the detail.

The global demand for seafood is almost insatiable. Market demand for the high-quality seafood that our industry is capable of meeting will always deliver a reasonable price. Obviously, trade is a two-way street. There are opportunities in the context of any trade agreement for the trade partner also. There is already trade between Ireland and Canada and there are opportunities for us now in the context of that trade agreement to increase our foothold in Canadian markets. There are also opportunities for Canadians to come in this direction. I have no doubt, given our marketing operations, the commitment of our industry to a high-quality product and the commitment of organisations like Bord Bia, that we can navigate a successful outcome to this.

In the context of trade agreements, as part of the continuing efforts of my Department in terms of market access opportunities, I will be going on a trade mission to the US and Canada next month. I have no doubt that seafood will be an important element of that. We cannot say we are in favour of all of the things we get in other markets but that we do not want anybody coming into our market. That is contrary to the spirit of trade agreements.

Tá an t-am istigh anois. Sin deireadh le ceisteanna chun an Aire Talmhaíochta, Bia agus Mara.

Do I not get to complete?

No. The time is up.

I thought I would have an opportunity to complete the question itself.

No. It is not "Mastermind". I am afraid that while the Deputy may have started, he may not finish.

It is certainly not "Mastermind" anyway. That is for sure.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.