Message to Dáil.

In accordance with Standing Order 85 the following message will be sent to the Dáil:

The Select Committee on Agriculture and Food has completed its consideration of An Bord Bia (Amendment) Bill 2003 [Seanad], and has made amendments thereto.

I thank the Minister and his officials for attending today's meeting. I also thank the members of the committee for their constructive contributions to the Bill and for facilitating its consideration. I also thank the clerk to the committee, the support staff, the debates office staff and technical staff for their kind assistance.

I thank the Chairman and the officials of the committee for the expeditious manner in which this Bill has been dealt with. I thank my colleagues, the members of the committee, for their useful amendments. The matters raised are of value to us as we further develop the food and horticulture industry which forms a major part of our economy. We export almost €8 billion worth of food annually. We also import almost €3 billion worth of food products and, while some of these cannot be produced here, a substantial portion of them are and can. However, the supermarket shelves in Tralee, Wicklow and parts of Dublin have a range of imported products that could easily be produced at home. I would like to see a greater effort made.

While a number of years ago kitchen gardens existed, unfortunately they have now gone. We depend to a great extent on importing food. While there is traceability of the source of origin of potatoes, the amount of potatoes imported does not reflect well on us as consumers or producers. I hope the new body and the legislation we are introducing will make a contribution to us becoming more self-sufficient in many areas and give us a better opportunity to compete.

In the past 24 hours, I spoke to somebody in Japan. I asked whether a great opportunity existed for Irish food because of the avian influenza affecting poultry products and because of the outbreak of BSE in the United States. While I was advised that there was such an opportunity, when I asked specifically about pigmeat, I was told that Denmark represents the main player in the pigmeat market in Japan and we have less than 1%. We talked about going into major economies like China and, while there are great opportunities for us, we need a sophisticated industry with traceability, standards, labelling and continuity of supply. I hope through all our efforts we will make a better fist of it from here on in.

I thank the Chairman and his staff for their efficiency. The clerk gave a comfortable estimation of when this committee would conclude. I also thank the Minister.

Some issues of concern affecting the Bill were raised and I hope that, between now and Report Stage, the Minister will consider these. I understand that the vociferous Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, was in Japan recently. We must get on to him about promoting Irish produce there. Now that the mechanism has changed to a single farm payment which will be easier to administer, the Minister should consider deploying more people into the marketing aspect. I raised this issue before and Bord Bia has only one person in Chicago covering the whole of the USA. The future of agriculture in this country depends on whether we can plug into the global market. We need more people involved in marketing.

The Minister referred to the kitchen garden. This week saw the launch of the pay by weight refuse disposal system. I compost waste at home. During my days in the Army when I was stationed near Prospect Hill in Galway, many of the houses in the area had a half-acre with a shed for a pig. As well as encouraging the kitchen garden, perhaps we should encourage people to keep a pig at the back to get rid of stuff rather than composting it. It may sound politically correct to talk about composting, but it can lead to the arrival of rodents. Perhaps the Minister will consider giving a pig to everyone rather than a compost bucket.

I thank the Minister and his officials for their efficiency in bringing forward the Bill at this meeting. Their explanations of some of the issues we raised were helpful. Unlike Deputy Timmins, I do not think my neighbours in Terenure would appreciate it if I kept a pig in the back garden, although it sounds like a great idea.

The major developments that are taking place in respect of genetically modified food were referred to today on Question Time and at this meeting. It is inevitable that there will be a great deal of debate and discussion on the matter in the coming months and years. The accession of the new EU member states will affect our markets, as well as the standard and quality of our food. It is good that the Bill has been brought forward to give us an opportunity to debate some of the issues and to highlight the challenges and opportunities we have. We need to be vigilant and ensure that we capitalise on our opportunities.

I wish to be associated with the complimentary remarks that have been made in respect of the Minister, his officials and the Chairman. As the Minister said, it is alarming that a productive country like Ireland has annual agricultural imports of €3 billion. We are aware that a great deal of imported produce, especially beef, is being sold as Irish produce. Irish consumers may believe that they are buying Irish produce and supporting local industry. Therefore, it is important that traceability in the form of labels that indicate a product's country of origin should be introduced throughout the agriculture producing sector. Such a measure would benefit consumers and Irish producers. We need to improve our marketing ability. It is good that our exports are worth €8 billion but there is room for improvement in that regard.

I am concerned about genetic modification and have raised many questions about it. It has the potential to do enormous damage to our traditional agricultural base. It is being introduced on the false pretext that it is necessary if we are to feed the starving. The real motivation for its introduction is the control of food. I am concerned about many aspects of genetic modification, not least the possible contamination of our traditional agricultural base. Having listened to the manner in which my amendments on the matter were received, it seems that genetic modification is a fait accompli. I do not think we have had the debate that is needed. We need to receive independent scientific information if we are to make an informed judgment on the matter, but I do not think we will get it. I make these remarks with respect for the Minister.

I find it alarming that we are being pointed in the direction of genetic modification by the leadership of the farming bodies, Government spokespersons, etc. We will be wide open to contamination if it is allowed in the other part of our country as a consequence of the decision taken by the British Government two weeks ago. I hope the Minister will take on board the seriousness of the issue. As someone who grew up on a small family farm, I often had a sore back during my childhood after spending the day picking potatoes or sore knees after spending hours thinning beet. I have a full insight into that lifestyle. I stress that, if we pursue genetic modification, we can lose the status we enjoy because our produce is considered to be safe.

I compliment the Minister and his officials on the competent way in which they have dealt with the Bill, not only at this committee but throughout its passage through the Oireachtas.

Ireland has a rich history and a legacy of quality food production. The Minister said that cottage industries are mushrooming throughout rural Ireland, especially in west Cork. We should be conscious that such industries add value to farms, just as the construction of poultry farms, etc. in the 1960s and 1970s helped small farmers to keep going. Cottage industries help to ensure that people continue to live in rural Ireland. The Minister is aware that Ardrahan farmhouse cheese in County Cork has grown into a massive industry from a small incubation unit approximately 15 years ago. There is a number of such industries in all areas.

I compliment the Minister on his handling of the food industry. I hope we will continue to have a vibrant, food-rich economy.

I also compliment the Minister on the manner in which he is handling the agriculture brief. We cannot stand still, whether we like it or not, because we are in a period of change. There are great opportunities for the production of quality food, which is the way forward. Ireland will hold its own during these times of change. The Minister referred to the high level of imports into this country. We need to examine this matter to ascertain whether we can increase the level of domestic production. I do not doubt that there are opportunities. I am satisfied with the overall development of the agriculture sector. We will have to wait to see how things will work out in respect of payments. I congratulate the Minister on the way things are being handled. I look forward to the future with optimism.

I thank the Minister, his officials, members of the committee and the staff of the Houses for their co-operation.

The select committee adjourned at 5.40 p.m. sine die.