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Beef Industry.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 13 October 2004

Wednesday, 13 October 2004

Ceisteanna (1, 2)

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

1 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to assist in the development of the beef industry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24693/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The focus of the beef industry has been to broaden and expand its market reach at EU retail level, shifting its orientation away from international commodity markets and into the higher priced internal EU marketplace. It has also eliminated its dependence on export measures such as intervention. This contrasts sharply with the situation that prevailed throughout the 1990s when the industry exported 50% of its products into non-EU markets. Last year, this share dropped to just 17% while the EU share increased proportionately. Non-EU markets continue to be important outlets for Irish beef and the maintenance of an appropriate export refund policy, which I keep under close review, is a key ingredient in the promotion of beef in third countries. I will continue to press hard for the re-opening of traditional third country markets and I was especially pleased to announce the re-opening of the Algerian market last week.

Increased sales into continental Europe coincided with the emergence of an EU market deficit in beef for the first time in 25 years, together with falling production levels aligned with a strong recovery in consumption. Ireland is now well placed to consolidate this position and to move further up the value chain, having demonstrated the quality and safety of Irish beef through its broad appeal to EU customers. A targeted approach based on quality production represents the best and most profitable way forward for the Irish industry. This is particularly the case in the aftermath of decoupling when the market will be the sole determinant of the nature and scale of output from the sector. In such a context, there will be a need for even greater emphasis on good breeding policies, payment related to quality, sophisticated and integrated supply and purchasing systems.

Ireland will shortly be among the first EU countries to classify beef carcasses by mechanical means. This will not only enhance the producer processor supply chain but will also provide wider benefits to the industry as Ireland consolidates its position as a supplier of top quality beef to consumer markets of the European Union. The installation of mechanical grading machines is supported by a grant scheme from my Department.

I thank the Minister for her reply and wish her well in her new portfolio. I am sure she will make a competent success of it. She has had luck on her side since she entered politics and is fortunate now that I am moving on and will not be the Fine Gael spokesperson on agriculture. I also wish the Ministers of State, Deputy Browne and Deputy Brendan Smith, well. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, has experience and has done much good work, while the promotion of the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, promotion was long overdue.

I remember the first occasion I took part in questions to the Minister for Agriculture and Food. The media spokesman for one of the farmers' representative groups said then that he knew about modulation and decoupling and held the line firmly against them. I was therefore a little surprised in recent months by the welcome for them by farm organisations and farmers given that they were so trenchant in their opposition to them for so long. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in that.

I am delighted the Minister emphasised a quality product. Does she agree that we cannot emphasise enough the importance of a quality product and a market for it? Does she agree it is important that when matters are evened out, we review modulation funding and consider the use of some of that money to encourage quality production? We should also consider the expansion of Bord Bia to market our produce abroad, especially to the higher echelons of the EU market.

Farmers are tired of the annual difficulty with the factories every autumn. The factories give out one story and the farmers another. Will the Minister consider a beef summit — one may have been set up by a previous Minister and still exist — that will bring the factories and the farmer together? To paraphrase the old song, they should be friends. It is to their benefit to work together. Farmers will not produce beef if they do not receive a satisfactory price and if they do not produce, the factories will be out of commission.

I thank the Deputy for his good wishes. Unfortunately our wonderful relationship will end after Question Time. I wish him every success in his new portfolio.

We all agree that quality is paramount. It is the only way to obtain the prices we deserve. Beef prices have been quite strong this year.

I am delighted to see the balance has come back into the EU market where there is greater potential for us. The EU retail market is important and can, justifiably, obtain a good price on the basis of quality.

The Deputy is correct. Every year we have this autumnal difficulty between farmers and the factories. Unfortunately, Ministers cannot become involved in the commercial aspect. However, we are all au fait with the concerns expressed by the farmers and people involved in commercial activities. As a result of decoupling, we can expect changes in orientation. Perhaps farmers receiving the single farm payment will consider anew the best farming methodology and, as a consequence, be able to obtain a good and fair market value price for beef. I am not aware of any merit in trying to bring the organisations and producers together because, by tradition, one likes to stand on the outside looking in and giving out about the price. It might be easier to solve the Northern Ireland problem than this difficult situation.

However, the Deputy is right that there are concerns to be addressed. I cannot interfere in the commercial aspect, but the Department will keep a watching brief. The Government has the view that we must also introduce some competition into the market with our live exports.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

2 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her Department has investigated or considered the results of a Garda investigation into a fraud involving the certification of beef for the Russian market at a processing plant in Leinster; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24695/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

My Department has asked the Garda to investigate certain practices in a licensed beef processing plant. This action was taken following preliminary results of an investigation conducted by a team from within my Department.

The nature of the investigation that led to the involvement of the Garda centred on the company's compliance with the terms of specifications for the non-EU market concerned. Such specifications are additional to those that apply in normal trade within the EU and form part of certification procedures agreed between the exporting and importing countries. In the case referred to, the issue relates to the extent to which the company in question adhered to these specifications. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the matter while the Garda investigation is ongoing.

I wish the Minister every success in her new portfolio. I am delighted to be joined by a woman in this area and to see a woman looking after agriculture in this country. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, on his new portfolio and Deputy Brendan Smith on his promotion to Minister of State. It is also appropriate to wish Deputy Timmins well in his new portfolio. I am sorry we will no longer exchange views on agriculture matters in committee.

I appreciate the Minister cannot offer extensive comment on the question since it refers to a Garda investigation. However, how much beef was involved in the scam? There are shades of the beef tribunal about this case. Ireland recently mended fences with Russia on exports following the BSE crisis and it is a great shame, having successfully reopened that market, that this should happen. The consequences for agriculture and the beef industry in particular are serious. When will there be an outcome from the Garda investigation? I appreciate this is outside the Minister's control but she may have information on that.

I share the Deputy's concerns and disappointment regarding this case. The Department carried out a preliminary investigation and asked the Garda bureau of fraud on 5 October to carry out an investigation. I assume that will be concluded as quickly as possible to address the issues.

I have been advised a substantial proportion of the beef in a particular category did not meet the criteria set down. However, I emphasise the Department's vigilance in light of this disappointment. Examinations were carried out in other plants that have certification for that market and I have been assured there is no evidence of widespread breaches. Significant diplomatic and other efforts were undertaken to reopen this lucrative market, to which Ireland exports a significant volume of meat. A great deal of work and negotiation was undertaken and any infringement or undermining of that market will be dealt with strenuously by the Department.

Was any of the beef exported? I appreciate this involved a breach of certification but it would be much more serious if the beef involved left the State. If so, what action has been taken? Is action being taken to rebuild bridges with Russia?

The company in question has been suspended indefinitely from supplying to this country. Controls relating to all aspects of this trade have been tightened in every plant that has certification. The European Commission has been informed.

There was an export and we have been advised the beef did not meet the age or sex criteria and some of it exceeded the 36 months condition. We have advised everyone possible and there are ongoing discussions between ourselves and the Commission. I do not have a quantity but I will advise the Deputy if that information becomes available.

Has the exported beef been recalled from the Russian market?

I will have to get back to the Deputy on that.

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