Beef Industry

Ceisteanna (25)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

25. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a compensation package will be introduced for beef farmers who have seen incomes severely impacted since autumn 2018. [20111/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The agrifood sector is of critical importance to the Irish economy, and its regional spread means it underpins the socio-economic development of rural areas in particular.  Brexit has the potential to have a very significant impact on the sector, given its unique exposure to the UK market, which accounted for 38% (€5.2 billion) of agrifood exports last year.

There are on-going discussions with the Commission regarding the difficulties which would face Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and the assistance that might be required for its agriculture food and fishery sectors.  Avoiding a no-deal Brexit continues to be the Government’s overriding policy priority.

I have held a number of discussions with Commissioner Hogan regarding the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit on the sector. I have stressed the need for the Commission to be ready to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impacts on agrifood and fisheries, including through traditional market supports and exceptional aid under the CAP's Single Common Market Organisation regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013), as well increased flexibility under State Aid regulations.

However, it is also important to acknowledge that the past few months have been very difficult for beef farmers in particular, following a difficult year in 2018 due to weather conditions. There has been a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed prices since last autumn, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance.

In light of the on-going depressed market prices, I have, in discussions with Commissioner Hogan and my EU counterparts, said that I believe that the deployment of exceptional measures under the CMO Regulation, to provide targeted aid to farm families who have suffered a sustained reduction in returns from the market, is now required.  I made an intervention to this effect at the April meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, and my officials have followed this up with a detailed submission, which is under consideration by Commission officials.

One of the unique strengths of the agrifood sector has been the shared vision for the sustainable development of the sector in Food Wise 2025. It is crucial that we all continue to work together. I have highlighted the need for stakeholders to recognise their inter-dependency, and to increase the strength of all links in the supply chain, including the development of Beef Producer Organisations.

I am deeply committed to fully supporting and developing Ireland’s beef sector.  I am strongly of the view that the existing range of supports available to beef farmers under the RDP, together with ensuring access to as many markets as possible, both for live animals and beef exports, are appropriate for the continued development of the sector.

Brexit Preparations

Ceisteanna (26)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

26. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of actions being taken to prepare for Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20115/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Although the immediate prospect of a no-deal Brexit has waned, my officials are continuing to deepen and broaden preparatory arrangements in order to ensure that our state of readiness is maintained and enhanced against the backdrop of what continues to be an uncertain political environment. 

My Department, as part of the whole-of-Government approach, has been very active in relation to preparedness for the import controls that will be required when the UK becomes a Third Country.  In this regard, the focus has been on allowing the Department to fulfil its legal obligations as efficiently as possible, while also ensuring the minimum possible disruption to trading arrangements.

To help mitigate the impacts on the sector I have introduced a number of budgetary measures over the last three years aimed at helping farmers, improving competitiveness and supporting market and product diversification.  This included a €78m package in Budget 2019 and the recently launched DBEI/DAFM “Future Growth Loan Scheme” which will provide €300m of long-term strategic investment loans that will be available to eligible Irish businesses, including farmers and the agrifood sector.  These loans can be applied for through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI).

I have also been engaging with both Agriculture and Fisheries Commissioners at EU level to sensitise them to the impact on Irish agriculture and fisheries and to consider the kinds of measures that will be required to mitigate those impacts.

My Department has also sharpened its Brexit communications strategy in order to keep stakeholders informed and to encourage them to take the necessary steps to allow their trading arrangements with the UK to continue.

I will continue to work to mitigate the impacts of Brexit on the agrifood sector and thereby ensure a vibrant agriculture sector that supports farm families and the rural economy.

Fur Farming

Ceisteanna (27)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

27. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the conditions in fur farms here; the way in which he can address the concerns of groups highly critical of this practice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20109/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

There are currently 3 mink farms operating in Ireland. Inspections of these farms are carried out by officers from my Department relating to their licensing and to animal welfare matters including the accommodation used to house the mink.

 In 2011 a Review Group was established to examine all aspects of fur farming in Ireland. The Terms of Reference of the Review Group were:

(i) To review fur farming in Ireland taking into account existing legislative provisions for the licensing of mink farming

(ii) To comment on the economic benefits of the sector

(iii)To consider the effectiveness of existing welfare controls, and

(iv) To make appropriate recommendations

The Review Group invited submissions from the public and interested parties and considered over four hundred submissions which were received.

The Group considered whether the farming of fur animals in Ireland should be banned and concluded that it did not find the arguments in favour of this compelling and recommended that instead, fur farming be allowed continue under licence and subject to official control.

In addressing welfare concerns, the Group made a series of recommendations.  At operational level, it recommended that the level of DAFM Veterinary and Agricultural inspections and controls be strengthened, to include unannounced inspections so that additional confidence can be gained in respect of compliance with animal health, animal welfare, environmental requirements, greater security on the farms and contingency planning.  It also recommended that veterinary controls should include a review of the checks carried out by the private veterinary practitioner engaged by the licence holders.

On foot of the Review Group’s deliberations, my Department introduced more rigorous controls on licence holders in the areas of animal welfare, animal accommodation, security and nutrient management.  Licensees are subject to regular inspections, including unannounced inspections by Department officials.

The controls in this area are therefore robust and in particular there is a focus on ensuring high animal welfare standards are maintained on these farms.

Brexit Preparations

Ceisteanna (28)

Pat the Cope Gallagher

Ceist:

28. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent of contingency planning he has prepared in the event of a no-deal Brexit; the submissions he has made to the EU for assistance should a no-deal Brexit occur for the entire seafood sector; when such contingencies would come into place in the event of a no-deal; when the assistance packages will be made available to the entire seafood sector; if the state of preparedness in the marine sector is equal to preparations made already for the agriculture sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19851/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Both my officials and I have had intensive discussions with the European Commission, other relevant Member States and stakeholders regarding the potential negative impact of a disorderly or  no- deal Brexit on the Irish fishing industry and the wider seafood sector as whole.  These discussions intensified in recent months and were based on preparatory work already done.  While the immediate threat of a no-deal outcome has been averted, the preparatory work and the discussions will continue.

The key issues in a no-deal situation which I have stressed in all discussions are the potential loss of access for Irish and other EU vessels to the UK fishing zone, the need to ensure ongoing protection of fish stocks in the waters around Ireland from a subsequent increase in fishing activity and potential mitigation measures for the seafood sector at EU level.  It is also important to be aware that, in such a  no-deal situation, the EU and Ireland could also face a loss of quota share.

Throughout the discussions, I emphasised the necessity for a coordinated European response to ensure that there would be proportionate and equitable use of mitigation measures overseen by the Commission.

The outcome of these discussions can be seen in the EU Brexit Contingency plan that was published on the 10th of April.  This highlights fisheries as one of the most immediately critical issues facing the EU in a no-deal Brexit.  We now have identified and agreed co-ordinated and fully prepared measures that will be immediately available to address a no-deal Brexit situation on the 31st of October, if the UK were to decide to deny EU vessels access to UK waters.  As I have stated previously, I am seeking additional EU funds to support these mitigation measure if they ever become necessary, which of course I hope they do not.  Such financial discussions are ongoing and there are many variables at play but I can assure the Deputy that the seafood sector will, along with agriculture be a key priority for this Government.

I would like to assure the Deputy that I will continue to work to ensure that the marine sector is equally prepared to the agriculture sector.

Tillage Sector

Ceisteanna (29)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

29. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to support and incentivise the wide scale production of premium quality tillage crops, meat and dairy products here concentrating on GMO-free, organic and 100% Irish-made products; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20108/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Premium quality is the cornerstone of all agrifood products, including grain, beef, dairy and other sectors. Irish food products have a highly rated and hard earned reputation in terms of quality, safety and sustainability, and this gives them a competitive edge in markets all over the world.

The Irish cereals sector plays a significant role in the supply of high quality grain to the feed industry, providing raw material for the food and drinks industry and is a key source of seed production.

Cereals are therefore a significant stakeholder in our agrifood industry from a supply/food safety and sustainability viewpoint and the continuance of an efficient and viable tillage sector in Ireland is vital. My Department continues to provide significant supports to the sector under the Agriculture Cashflow Support Loan Scheme, the Tillage Capital Investment Scheme under TAMS II, the EU Protein Aid Scheme and the fodder production incentive measure introduced in 2018.

- The Tillage TAMS scheme supports tillage farmers adoption of more efficient and sustainable practices by supporting the purchase of items such as GPS guidance and cover crop establishment equipment. 

- My Department also provides a high quality official crop seed certification scheme to the industry.

- The €3m coupled Protein Aid Scheme has encouraged the production of beans and peas, which reduces our dependence on imported protein feeds, while giving growers the option to adapt more sustainable crop rotations. In spring 2018 I announced the continuation of the Protein Aid Scheme for 2019 and I envisage it remaining for the period of the current CAP.

The Strategy for the development of the Organic Food Sector, which was launched by my colleague Minister of State Andrew Doyle, recognises the opportunities that exist for the Irish Organic Food Sector and provides clear direction for the development of the Sector up to 2025. It aligns the strategic growth plans of the Organic Sector with the broader Food Wise 2025 Strategy for food and drink.

The overall strategic objective is to develop a consumer-led viable Organic Food Sector in Ireland enhancing the sustainability credentials of Irish food which will produce a wide range of organic products to meet increasing domestic and export market opportunities. To this end, this Strategy sets measurable strategic objectives for each sub-sector and incorporates actions considered essential to further support the industry’s development and achieve growth targets.

In respect of dairy, in 2018, Ireland exported dairy products to approximately 140 countries totalling over €4.5 billion worth of produce, an increase of over 5% by volume compared to 2017 and another year of strong performance by the Irish dairy sector.

My Department, in conjunction with other stakeholders, including the Irish dairy companies and agencies such as Bord Bia, are playing a key role in building the market for Irish dairy with intensive Ministerial trade mission programmes and other promotional work. I am delighted to acknowledge that Kerrygold has achieved over €1 billion in annual sales globally.

According to the CSO, Ireland exported almost €3.9 billion worth of meat with a volume of over 1 million tonnes in 2018. My officials continue to work towards opening and enhancing access to as many markets as possible. This is a key part of our response to the challenges and uncertainty posed by Brexit, and in line with the market development theme of the Food Wise 2025 strategy. As you are aware, Irish food products are stocked in all major retailers across the globe.

Preparations for a new agrifood strategy to 2030 are underway. Its development will involve an analysis of a range of cross-cutting themes and the various sub-sectors of the agrifood industry; a formal public consultation; and the establishment of a committee to develop the strategy.

Without pre-empting the work of the new committee and the eventual content of the 2030 strategy, it is clear that consideration will have to be given to the production systems of animal and plant products from our livestock, cereal and horticulture sectors as well as customer and consumer demands.

Quality Assurance plays a fundamental role in promoting food and horticulture and provides the platform for consumer promotion of product quality. Bord Bia operates a series of quality assurance schemes for the food industry. The schemes are built on best practice in farming and processing, current legislation, relevant industry guidelines and international standards - and are accredited to the ISO17065/2012. They are reflected in the high level of trust placed by consumers in QA labels.

As I stated earlier, premium quality is the cornerstone of all Irish agrifood products and the measures I have outlined will serve to maintain and enhance our enviable reputation throughout the world into the future.

Areas of Natural Constraint Scheme Appeals

Ceisteanna (30)

James Browne

Ceist:

30. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the position regarding the appeals process for the ANC scheme with reference to appeals by farmers in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19048/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Under the current Rural Development Regulation (and subsequent amendments under the Omnibus Regulation) Member States  were required to change the approach to the designation of land under the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme.  Previously my Department had been identifying eligible areas using a range of socio economic indicators such as family farm income, population density, percentage of working population engaged in agriculture, and stocking density.  From 2019, eligible areas must instead be designated using a defined list of bio-physical criteria such as slope, soil texture, soil rooting depth, soil moisture and drainage.

Further to the completion of the redesignation process, my Department wrote to all farmers holding ANC lands advising them of the status of these lands under the 2019 ANC scheme and advised of their right to appeal this position.  The appeals process, overseen by an independently chaired Appeals Committee, is in place for any farmer who wishes to further appeal the status of a particular townland in the 2019 ANC scheme.  Where a farmer notified my Department of their wish to make such an appeal, they have been provided with the relevant information in relation to the data underpinning the status of the townland in order that an appeal can be based on full information.

My Department has received and replied to Notifications of Appeal in respect of 759 individual townlands, of which 266 were in County Wexford.   To date, full appeals in respect of some 160 townlands have been made to the Appeals Committee, of which 38 are in County Wexford.

The Independent Appeal Committee has commenced work on processing the appeals received.

Livestock Issues

Ceisteanna (31)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

31. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the reason farmers are not paid for the fifth quarter, that is, remaining pieces of an animal carcass which are not being used for meat production. [20057/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I am very conscious of the role played by livestock farming in sustaining the rural economy and rural communities across Ireland.

I am aware of the current challenges facing beef farmers in particular, with a sustained period of low prices, following on from additional costs last year arising from the unprecedented weather events, and with significant Brexit uncertainty still overhanging the sector.

However, as Minister, I cannot intervene directly in any commodity price, including in relation to meat offals. Factory prices are a matter for the processing industry and the farmers who supply it. Cattle and other livestock prices are influenced by a variety of factors such as the level of consumer demand, production levels and exchange rate differences at any point in time.

Basic Payment Scheme Administration

Ceisteanna (32)

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

32. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to implement full convergence of the basic payment scheme immediately or on a gradual basis over the lifetime of the next CAP; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19996/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The draft CAP Post-2020 regulations, involve significant changes, including the end of the Basic Payment Scheme and the start of the Basic Income Support Scheme (BISS). Under the proposed BISS, there is a mandatory requirement for Member States to ensure that, by 2026, all payment values reach a minimum convergence level of 75% for all payment entitlements.   Member States will also be required to set a maximum value of individual payment entitlements.  It is proposed that the funding mechanism will be similar to the current system where payment entitlements with values above the average are reduced to fund the convergence.

This proposal builds on the current convergence path of the 2015-2020 CAP Regulations, under which all entitlements must reach a minimum value of 60% of the national average by 2019.  I am open to some further convergence in payments.

Since the launch of the draft CAP Post-2020 regulations by Commissioner Hogan in June 2018, officials from my Department have been engaging with European colleagues and analysing the effects of all of the proposed changes, including changes to convergence.  This close level of engagement and detailed analysis of the impact of the proposals on farmers in Ireland will continue until the Regulations are fully developed. The outcome of these continued discussions and the results of these analyses will inform the decision-making process on the implementation of CAP Post-2020 in Ireland.

Gambling Legislation

Ceisteanna (33)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

33. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views with regard to children being present at horse racing and greyhound racing tracks in view of the trends of problem gambling and the exposure to persons under the legal age to gambling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14340/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Both Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon recognise the need to protect young people, and since 1 October 2017, have implemented measures to prevent Tote bets being taken from persons aged under the age of 18.  The engagement in a betting transaction by a bookmaker with a person under the age of 18 is strictly prohibited.

Bord na gCon is also a participant in, and contributor to, the newly established Gambling Awareness Trust and the recently launched website gamblingcare.ie.

HRI and BnG have also fully supported the work of the Interdepartmental Group on Licensing and Regulation of Gambling, and will continue to assist with the development of the forthcoming Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019.

Sea Lice Controls

Ceisteanna (34)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

34. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number and location of organic salmon farms requested to accelerate harvesting in view of concerns about high sea lice levels on their farms; the number and location of other farms with levels of sea lice that are of concern; the actions being taken to address and resolve these issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20098/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The control protocols for the management of sea lice are operated by the Marine Institute on behalf of the State.

To date in 2019, seven finfish production sites have been identified by the Marine Institute as having elevated sea lice levels. These sites are in Kilkieran Bay (1); Inver Bay (2); Ballinakill Harbour (1); Killary Harbour (1); Mulroy Bay (1); Lough Swilly (1).

The Marine Institute, in accordance with standard procedures, issued Notices to Treat to the operators at these sites with measures such as bath treatment, mechanical treatment and cleaner fish treatment undertaken, in consultation with the Marine Institute, to address these issues. Accelerated harvests were undertaken at three sites in the following bays - Kilkieran Bay, Ballinakill Harbour and Inver Bay.

The Marine Institute has concluded that the measures taken by the salmon farms at each site have been effective in the control of sea lice infestation on farmed Atlantic salmon in the Spring period to date.

The protocols for the control of sea lice in Ireland are more advanced than those operated in other jurisdictions for the following reasons:

- The inspection regime is totally independent of the industry.

- Data obtained as a result of inspection is published and made widely available.

- Treatment trigger levels are set at a low level.

The sea lice monitoring and control programme in Ireland has been acknowledged by the Environment Directorate (DG Environment) of the EU Commission as representing international best practice.

Briefing Note

Brexit Supports

Ceisteanna (35)

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

35. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the reason only 81 approved loans under the Brexit loan scheme have progressed to bank level despite 462 eligibility applications received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19045/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The €300 million Brexit Loan Scheme was developed in cooperation with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI), to provide working capital support to enable eligible Irish businesses to implement the necessary changes to address the challenges posed by Brexit. The Scheme opened for applications on 28th March 2018 and it will remain open until 31st March 2020.

It provides for loans of €25,000 to €1,500,000 per eligible enterprise at a maximum interest rate of 4%, ranging from 1 year to 3 years, with unsecured loans up to €500,000. The loans can be used for future working capital requirements or to fund innovation, change or adaptation of the business to mitigate the impact of Brexit.

Applications for eligibility assessment must be made to the SBCI who, on approval, assign an eligibility reference number. This reference number along with the loan application may then be provided to a participating lender.

At 26th April, there were 600 eligibility applications received, of which 542 are approved and 16 are ineligible. The total number of loans progressed to sanction at bank level is 117 to a value of €25.1m, 23 of which relate to food businesses to a value of €7.4m.

The SBCI have informed my Department that the relatively low progression from eligibility approval to loan sanction is largely a reflection of the current uncertainty regarding the outcome of Brexit. Businesses are establishing their eligibility but not yet drawing down the finance. The number of eligibility applications approved indicates a good level of interest in the Scheme, and is a good indicator of businesses engaging in Brexit preparedness.

In addition to the Brexit Loan Scheme, the Future Growth Loan Scheme has been developed by my Department and DBEI in partnership with the Department of Finance, the SBCI and the European Investment Fund (EIF).  It will be delivered through participating finance providers and make up to €300 million of investment loans available to eligible Irish businesses, including farmers and the agrifood & seafood sectors. The loans will be competitively priced and will be for terms of 8-10 years and will support strategic long-term investment in a post-Brexit environment.

This is a long-awaited source of finance for young and new entrant farmers, especially the cohort who do not have high levels of security. It will also serve smaller-scale farmers, who often do not have the leverage to negotiate for more favourable terms with their banking institution.

Food companies have identified long term investment finance of up to ten years as a critical need which is currently unavailable in Ireland. I am pleased that the Government have been able to deliver this product and its effects will be felt all along the food production chain from primary producer to processor.

I was pleased to launch this Scheme recently with my colleagues. It is open for loan eligibility applications through the SBCI website since 17th April.

Beef Industry

Ceisteanna (36)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

36. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a compensation package will be introduced as a direct mitigation measure from the decrease in prices experienced by beef farmers since Autumn 2018 from the impact of Brexit. [20056/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The agrifood sector is of critical importance to the Irish economy, and its regional spread means it underpins the socio-economic development of rural areas in particular.  Brexit has the potential to have a very significant impact on the sector, given its unique exposure to the UK market, which accounted for 38% (€5.2 billion) of agrifood exports last year.

There are on-going discussions with the Commission regarding the difficulties which would face Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and the assistance that might be required for its agriculture food and fishery sectors.  Avoiding a no-deal Brexit continues to be the Government’s overriding policy priority.

I have held a number of discussions with Commissioner Hogan regarding the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit on the sector. I have stressed the need for the Commission to be ready to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impacts on agrifood and fisheries, including through traditional market supports and exceptional aid under the CAP's Single Common Market Organisation regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013), as well increased flexibility under State Aid regulations.

However, it is also important to acknowledge that the past few months have been very difficult for beef farmers in particular, following a difficult year in 2018 due to weather conditions. There has been a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed prices since last autumn, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance.

In light of the on-going depressed market prices, I have, in discussions with Commissioner Hogan and my EU counterparts, said that I believe that the deployment of exceptional measures under the CMO Regulation, to provide targeted aid to farm families who have suffered a sustained reduction in returns from the market, is now required.  I made an intervention to this effect at the April meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, and my officials have followed this up with a detailed submission, which is under consideration by Commission officials.

One of the unique strengths of the agrifood sector has been the shared vision for the sustainable development of the sector in Food Wise 2025. It is crucial that we all continue to work together. I have highlighted the need for stakeholders to recognise their inter-dependency, and to increase the strength of all links in the supply chain, including the development of Beef Producer Organisations.

I am deeply committed to fully supporting and developing Ireland’s beef sector.  I am strongly of the view that the existing range of supports available to beef farmers under the RDP, together with ensuring access to as many markets as possible, both for live animals and beef exports, are appropriate for the continued development of the sector.

Agrifood Sector

Ceisteanna (37)

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

37. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress made on growing existing markets and establishing new markets that will equate to exports of agricultural produce to the UK in view of the delay in Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19998/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The pursuit and development of new markets for Irish agrifood exports is an ongoing and central component of the strategic development of the agrifood sector, as evidenced by its placement right at the centre of Food Wise 2025, and is of particular relevance given the need to diversify our markets and to reduce our exposure to traditional destinations such as the UK.

My Department continues to open new markets and deepen trade with existing markets for Irish agrifood exporters. The highlight of 2018 in this respect was the decision of the Chinese authorities to open their market to Irish beef imports. Other notable achievements during 2018 were agreements with Qatar and Kuwait which allowed for the importation of Irish beef, sheepmeat and poultry to their markets, and most recently in April 2019 we saw the opening of the Ukrainian market for Irish beef and pork.

Trade Missions play an important role in securing market access, and in deepening trade with existing markets. March 2019 has already seen the first trade mission of the year, to Turkey, primarily focusing on Live Trade. The remainder of 2019 will see missions to China next week, Japan and South Korea in June, and Algeria and Egypt in November. These destinations are in keeping with Bord Bia's recent market prioritisation exercise, which has identified the markets that provide the greatest potential for an increase in Irish agrifood exports.

Overall, agrifood exports to countries outside the EU have increased from around €2.7 billion to €3.6 billion in the period 2014 to 2018. This represents very rapid growth of 36% in that four-year timeframe. It remains the case, nonetheless, that exports to the UK comprise a very significant proportion of Irish agrifood exports.

In that context, the avoidance of a hard Brexit must remain a critically important policy objective.

Greyhound Industry

Ceisteanna (38)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

38. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to reports (details supplied) that at least 40 Irish and UK born and trained greyhounds are allegedly being kept in poor conditions for breeding in China; the resources he will make available for the repatriation of Irish greyhounds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19047/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I am aware of reports on the export of Irish greyhounds to other jurisdictions. Bord na gCon is a commercial state body, established under the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958 chiefly to control greyhound racing and to improve and develop the greyhound industry.

Bord na gCon has informed me that it is aware of reports suggesting cruelty to greyhounds in other jurisdictions and condemns any such practices in the strongest possible terms.

The newspaper report that the Deputy cites refers to two greyhounds by name - one of whom raced here before being exported to race in the UK and the other who was registered in Ireland but unraced here. BnG is opposed to exports to countries that do not meet Ireland’s welfare standards. BnG continues to advise owners to only export to destinations that provide the expected levels of greyhound welfare in its Code of Practice. I fully endorse this view.

It is important to note that Bord na gCon has no control of events outside the jurisdiction of Ireland and has no statutory function regarding the regulation of greyhound exports. The export of greyhounds could still continue indirectly via other countries before reaching their final destination. The World Trade Organisation does not presently envisage trade restrictions based on animal welfare concerns.

BnG has informed me that potential solutions have been discussed through the International Greyhound Welfare Forum which includes national and international welfare agencies. The movement of all dogs between EU member states is currently set on a European level. This may require any further legislative changes to be sponsored at a European level and as part of overall world trade agreements. 

Any person or persons found to have been in breach of the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 have been and will continue to be referred to An Garda Síochána.

Environmental Investigations

Ceisteanna (39)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

39. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to ongoing research undertaken by NUI Galway with EU funding on antibiotic resistant bacteria in the sea around County Galway; the actions being taken further to the findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20097/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I am advised that NUI Galway is undertaking research in relation to antibiotic resistant bacteria which is being carried out with the support of the Environmental Protection Agency.

As my Department is not involved in the project, I do not have any comments on the matter at this stage.

Animal Feedstuffs

Ceisteanna (40)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

40. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the percentage of beef products that are genetically modified free; the percentage of dairy products that are genetically modified free; the percentage of cattle feed used here that is imported genetically modified free; if the imported feed is tested for traces of chemicals such as glyphosate; if so, the locations these test results can be accessed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20107/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

In Ireland, up to 80% of feed for ruminants is provided by grass, hay and silage.

Feed for livestock is, of course, supplemented by feed rations that include imports. The pig, poultry and dairy sectors are particularly dependent on imports of GM maize and soyabean, and their by-products, as these are essential ingredients in the formulation of these feed rations.

Climatic conditions in Ireland are traditionally not suited to the cultivation of soyabean and grain maize, the most common international feed protein sources. However, Ireland supports increased domestic production of protein crops, which are of course GM-free. Since the introduction of the national coupled protein support payment in 2015, the area of protein crops, mainly beans, has increased from an average of 4,000 ha to 13,000 ha in 2017.

Ireland imported approximately 5.1 million tonnes of animal feed materials in 2018. Ireland is very dependant therefore on internationally produced grains, particularly from North and South America's and where production systems are based on GM production. Over 90% of the soyabean and 80% of the maize products imported from Argentina, Brazil, Canada and the USA are derived from genetically modified crops. Approximately 2.7 million tonnes of these imports in 2018 were GM products, constituting over 50% of total feed imports.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine implements a comprehensive control plan to verify compliance with EU feed legislation and to ensure the safety of the animal feed chain, which includes inspections of feed businesses and sampling of animal feed for chemical and microbiological contaminants. The results of the annual control plan are available from the annual report on Ireland’s National Control Plan.

Brexit Supports

Ceisteanna (41)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

41. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the contingencies being operationalised and supports that will be in place to safeguard farmers here and the agrifood sector for all scenarios including a no-deal hard Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20058/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

While ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement is still the Government's primary objective, preparations are continuing for all scenarios.

For example, my Department, as part of the whole-of-Government approach to Brexit, has been very active in relation to preparedness for import controls that will be required when the UK becomes a Third Country. The focus in this regard is on fulfilling its legal obligations as efficiently as possible, while also ensuring the minimum possible disruption to trading arrangements.

My Department has also sharpened its Brexit communications strategy in order to keep stakeholders informed and to encourage them to take the necessary steps to allow their trading arrangements with the UK to continue. Key elements here include an updated website, call centre and central e-mail address, streamlined registration arrangements and increased presence on social media.

In order to help mitigate the impacts on the sector, I have introduced a number of budgetary measures over the last three years aimed at helping farmers and the agrifood sector to improve competitiveness, and to support market and product diversification.

I have met with Commissioner Hogan to discuss the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on farmers and the agrifood sector, and have stressed the need to be ready to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impacts on farmers and processors. Commissioner Hogan has confirmed the EU’s readiness to respond and support Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

While the immediate prospect of a no-deal Brexit has waned, my officials are continuing to deepen and broaden preparatory arrangements in order to ensure that our state of readiness is maintained and enhanced against the backdrop of what continues to be an uncertain political environment.

Beef Industry

Ceisteanna (42)

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

42. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details of the submission made to the European Commission for an additional support package for the beef sector; the feedback received; and when a final decision is expected. [20105/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The agrifood sector is of critical importance to the Irish economy, and its regional spread means it underpins the socio-economic development of rural areas in particular.  Brexit has the potential to have a very significant impact on the sector, given its unique exposure to the UK market, which accounted for 38% (€5.2 billion) of agrifood exports last year.

There are on-going discussions with the Commission regarding the difficulties which would face Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and the assistance that might be required for its agriculture food and fishery sectors.  Avoiding a no-deal Brexit continues to be the Government’s overriding policy priority.

I have held a number of discussions with Commissioner Hogan regarding the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit on the sector. I have stressed the need for the Commission to be ready to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impacts on agrifood and fisheries, including through traditional market supports and exceptional aid under the CAP's Single Common Market Organisation regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013), as well increased flexibility under State Aid regulations.

However, it is also important to acknowledge that the past few months have been very difficult for beef farmers in particular, following a difficult year in 2018 due to weather conditions. There has been a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed prices since last autumn, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance.

In light of the on-going depressed market prices, I have, in discussions with Commissioner Hogan and my EU counterparts, said that I believe that the deployment of exceptional measures under the CMO Regulation, to provide targeted aid to farm families who have suffered a sustained reduction in returns from the market, is now required.  I made an intervention to this effect at the April meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, and my officials have followed this up with a detailed submission, which is under consideration by Commission officials.

One of the unique strengths of the agrifood sector has been the shared vision for the sustainable development of the sector in Food Wise 2025. It is crucial that we all continue to work together. I have highlighted the need for stakeholders to recognise their inter-dependency, and to increase the strength of all links in the supply chain, including the development of Beef Producer Organisations.

I am deeply committed to fully supporting and developing Ireland’s beef sector.  I am strongly of the view that the existing range of supports available to beef farmers under the RDP, together with ensuring access to as many markets as possible, both for live animals and beef exports, are appropriate for the continued development of the sector.

Brexit Supports

Ceisteanna (43)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

43. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the supports in place to support farmers and the mushroom growers sector in view of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20106/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Brexit poses very significant challenges for the agrifood sector in general but also for the mushroom sector, with the UK market accounting for around 90% of our annual production. The Irish Government’s position will continue to be to minimise the impact of Brexit on existing trade for all Irish exports, including mushrooms.

Support is currently provided by my Department and its State Agencies on a number of fronts.

The EU Producer Organisation Scheme is a vital support for the mushroom sector, with around 80% of Irish mushroom growers being members of a producer organisation at present. This scheme provides an important mechanism for growers to achieve greater bargaining power in the marketplace by becoming part of a larger supply base. In addition this scheme is funding a number of initiatives to improve mushroom grower competitiveness including Lean Training for mushroom growers.  Indeed the concentration of supply through the Producer Organisation Scheme has allowed exporters in many cases to negotiate Sterling price rises from their UK customers in response to the weakening of Sterling.

The Scheme of Investment Aid for the Development of the Commercial Horticulture Sector continues to be the main support for individual growers in the horticulture industry including mushroom producers who wish to make capital investments in specialised equipment or buildings. Budget 2019 allocated an additional €1 million in funding bringing the total provision for a sector particularly challenged by Brexit to €6 million.

The new “Future Growth Loan Scheme” scheme which I launched recently will provide long term, unsecured investment finance for farmers and small scale companies in the food and seafood sectors. The loans will be competitively priced, will be for terms of 8-10 years and will support strategic long-term investment in a post-Brexit environment. There will be €50million to €60million available initially for farmers.

Bord Bia has commenced a 3-year mushroom promotion campaign on the Irish and UK markets. This campaign is co-funded by the industry and the European Commission. It is important to emphasise that the overall market for mushrooms in the UK and Ireland remains strong, showing good potential for further growth.

Beef Industry

Ceisteanna (44)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

44. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he is taking to assist farmers affected by the ongoing beef crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20061/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The agrifood sector is of critical importance to the Irish economy, and its regional spread means it underpins the socio-economic development of rural areas in particular.  Brexit has the potential to have a very significant impact on the sector, given its unique exposure to the UK market, which accounted for 38% (€5.2 billion) of agrifood exports last year.

There are on-going discussions with the Commission regarding the difficulties which would face Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and the assistance that might be required for its agriculture food and fishery sectors.  Avoiding a no-deal Brexit continues to be the Government’s overriding policy priority.

I have held a number of discussions with Commissioner Hogan regarding the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit on the sector. I have stressed the need for the Commission to be ready to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impacts on agrifood and fisheries, including through traditional market supports and exceptional aid under the CAP's Single Common Market Organisation regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013), as well increased flexibility under State Aid regulations.

However, it is also important to acknowledge that the past few months have been very difficult for beef farmers in particular, following a difficult year in 2018 due to weather conditions. There has been a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed prices since last autumn, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance.

In light of the on-going depressed market prices, I have, in discussions with Commissioner Hogan and my EU counterparts, said that I believe that the deployment of exceptional measures under the CMO Regulation, to provide targeted aid to farm families who have suffered a sustained reduction in returns from the market, is now required.  I made an intervention to this effect at the April meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, and my officials have followed this up with a detailed submission, which is under consideration by Commission officials.

One of the unique strengths of the agrifood sector has been the shared vision for the sustainable development of the sector in Food Wise 2025. It is crucial that we all continue to work together. I have highlighted the need for stakeholders to recognise their inter-dependency, and to increase the strength of all links in the supply chain, including the development of Beef Producer Organisations.

I am deeply committed to fully supporting and developing Ireland’s beef sector.  I am strongly of the view that the existing range of supports available to beef farmers under the RDP, together with ensuring access to as many markets as possible, both for live animals and beef exports, are appropriate for the continued development of the sector.