I understood we would not stray into control measures relating to avian influenza. That is not my area, which is the meat policy division. However, I was at some meetings where the issue of the chlorination of water arose. I understand that where the Department advises people with regard to biosecurity measures, particularly where it provides compensation or a contribution towards the cost involved, producers who do not act responsibly and take up the measures will not benefit from the compensation. However, this only relates to compensation and not to market support measures.
I do not know the exact situation. I saw a report in the newspaper that farmers would not get compensation if they did not take the advice on biosecurity measures. As far as I understood, there was some contribution towards taking the measures, but I am not sure about that. That seemed a reasonable view to me.
That all flocks should be registered is an issue that has been aired a number of times. We cannot be sure that everybody with a chicken in the backyard will register, but we got positive feedback that substantial numbers of flocks are registered and the Department is satisfied with progress in this regard.
The next issue related to the comments on "The Late Late Show". I heard those comments and thought they were abominable. We do not know the agenda or reasons for them. I agree it is difficult to take back something once it has been said, no matter how often it is contradicted. I heard the same gentleman on the radio at the weekend and he could not have mentioned the sale of chickens more often over his five or ten minute interview. Whoever talked to him certainly cleared the air and I felt he was very positive on the matter in that interview. However, that does not get us out of the job of trying to ensure the industry is maintained at as strong a level as possible. Damage done by such comments or otherwise must be counteracted.
We considered a promotion and spoke to people in the industry about it. As it happened, immediately after the TV show one of the processors did a radio interview. The Minister also visited a processor and got some good air time that allowed her to show the proper controls involved. To an extent there was some counteraction which had a good effect and recovery was fairly immediate. While there was a blip that week, probably within a week sales began to return to normal. I imagine the blip was a direct result of the comments and of the atmosphere prevailing at the time relating to avian influenza. Those comments might not be as damaging now or at another time but when they were made they were associated with avian influenza even though they had nothing to do with it. That association caused an almost immediate 20% drop in sales as reported to us. However, the drop was shortlived.
We also spoke to the FSAI about making strong statements about the safety of our product and about the possibility of a promotion, either by the industry or by the Department being allowed do it by the EU Commission. We were advised against that on the basis that if there was a recovery, we would only contribute to the damage by reminding people of it. One must be very careful about when to promote a product that is in trouble. We took advice on the matter at the time and that is the reason the promotion of poultry meat features in our proposals to the Commission. We will discuss that with it on Friday. We hope that when everybody agrees the time is right we can regain stability in the market, promote the product again and give it a lift to overcome the hammering it has taken in recent times.
On the issue of stockpiling, this has largely concerned two main processors and not producers. This is a peculiar industry in that the majority of the product is owned by processors who supply day-old chicks to the producers. I agree with Deputy Crawford that everybody in the chain is affected. We have taken seriously the representations we received from the farm organisations and producers. However, with regard to storing or stockpiling, the product is in the ownership of the processors. Of the four main chicken processors, two main ones are largely responsible for 80% of what is stockpiled. If we get a measure to deal with this, it should be quickly and easily implemented.
I have no particular information on the effect on by-products such as breaded chicken, but as far as I know, everything suffered. When my daughter mentioned chicken nuggets to me, I questioned the amount of chicken in them, but I should not have done that. The effects on all products were in people's minds and therefore all chicken products were affected, but to what degree I am not sure.
On the question of body bag tactics, I do not believe all that. We would not countenance it. Sometimes such stories go in one ear and out the other. I am buoyed up by the fact that chicken sales are now back to near normal levels. This is the peak time for chicken sales and therefore we will not be complacent.
There is a downside to the situation also. We are going to the Commission to look for money at a time when it appears the crisis is over. We will emphasise that the crisis is ongoing and that it is something about which we must be ever vigilant. We need to deal with the existing situation and with those who suffered at the time. We also need to anticipate, plan and have a framework in place for the future. How persuasive we will be remains to be seen.
I assure Deputy Crawford that compensation will apply across the sector. We understand the structure and have been patiently going through it for days to try to understand who owns what and the contribution made by those involved. We will seek something for growers and processors for the reduction in throughput. We know that if hatching eggs are destroyed that is not the end of the problem. Costs rise at producer level because of that. We accept that, but I am not sure how far we will get with the Commission because it keeps emphasising it wants to deal with the primary section and with compensation for lack or loss of income. The problem has not featured in other similar schemes.
This is a special industry and we are making a special play for it. We have put our best case forward and will re-emphasise it on Friday and at the poultry management meeting on 21 June.