Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Ceisteanna (48)

Catherine Murphy


48. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the controls his Department exercise over the intake register of category 1, 2 and 3 knackeries; the controls that exist to oversee and enforce the regulations relating to use of animal by-products from category 2 plants to ensure no cross-contamination between categories; his views on whether these controls are robust enough for his Department to guarantee the integrity of the food chain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28550/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

This question is a follow-on from the RTÉ "Prime Time" report. It seeks to find out about enforcement. How does the Department ensure there is no cross-contamination? Are there audits of the registers of the knackeries? What is the effect of enforcement in closing down, prosecuting, etc., facilities that have so egregiously breached the conditions they are allowed to function under?

Category 2 intermediate plants, knackeries, and collection centres are approved and supervised by my Department in accordance with the EU Animal By-Products Regulations (EC) No. 1069 of 2009 and its implementing Regulation (EU) No. 142 of 2011, which lay down the health rules as regards animal by products and derived products not intended for human consumption.

Category 2 intermediate plants, knackeries, and collection centres play a vital role in the agri-sector. They play an important role in combatting illegal burial or the dumping of fallen stock, and are a vital conduit between the herd owner and the Department for traceability of all fallen bovines by their submission of documentation to the animal identification and movement system. They also serve as centres at which my Department can carry out statutory BSE and TSE sampling on cattle and sheep which serves to underpin Ireland's bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE, and transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, TSE, status and is a necessary part of the surveillance needed to ensure compliance with EU rules.

Official controls are carried out in the knackeries by veterinary personnel of my Department to ensure compliance with the EU and national animal by-product regulations and also compliance with the specific operational conditions laid down for category 2 intermediate plants. The Department carries out, on an ongoing basis, audits and routine and-or unannounced inspections at the category 2 intermediate plants. In addition, Department inspectors take samples from dead cattle and sheep at knackeries for the purpose of disease surveillance under EU Regulation 999/2001.

As part of their conditions of approval, knackery operators are required to keep an up-to-date electronic intake register, completed appropriately, in chronological order. The intake register is audited as part of the inspections. Senior veterinary inspectors at regional veterinary offices and veterinary inspectors working in headquarters carry out verification visits to verify effectiveness of official controls.

The rationale for the animal by-products, ABP, regulations is to create and ensure a one-way flow for ABP material which ensures that such material is dealt with appropriately and prevents the occurrence of cross-contamination with other categories of ABP. Enhanced controls have recently been put in place to ensure that no category 1 ABP material, which is designated under EU Regulation as lower quality ABP, may enter the intake area of the knackery. The stringent official controls in place as required under EU and national regulations, together with the frequency of inspections carried out by officials from my Department, provides a robust system of controls to ensure the highest standard of compliance is maintained.

It is very hard to match that with what we saw two nights ago and it is very difficult to see what the sanction is from the Minister’s response. The Irish Coursing Club's figures show that between 2013 and 2017, 86,754 individual pups were registered and 6,700 were reported to have died during that period. Much of the emphasis is on the post-2015 microchipping. Where have all those dogs gone? For example, if they were disposed of in incinerators would the microchips have survived? The export of dogs to the UK could hardly account for that number, nor could the rehoming of dogs. There is a statistic here that cannot be squared. It is very difficult to see what the sanction is for people who breach the rules in these facilities.

In the context of the broader exposé and the public service journalism conducted by RTÉ in that "Prime Time" programme the Department will give no comfort to anybody shown in that programme who is in breach of regulations. The content of the programme has been rightly commented on as being grotesquely offensive to people in the industry and to society in general, and in the context of animal welfare regulations.

The Department is examining all those issues in the operation of knackeries which serve a very important function in the broader agrifood sector, particularly for the livestock sector in respect of fallen animals. Insofar as there may be shortcomings in our own regime to deal in particular with the disposal of pets, which die for many reasons, including humane killing in veterinary practices for good reason, or fallen pets, road victims, we will consider all of that. It is somewhat reassuring that even in the programme there was evidence of Department inspections.

I have also been contacted by good people in this sector who are trainers and breeders. They have no confidence in the Irish Greyhound Board, IGB, in the regulation of this area. Is the Minister going to close these places down if they will not comply with the rules? I understand that they have to exist but the ones that are breaking the rules should not be allowed to continue in the sector. It is all very well saying it is robust but what does that mean? What action is open to the Minister to take?

They perform a really critical function in the operation of the broader agrifood sector. There is a specific focus on their activities and the legality around their dealing with the putting down and disposal of greyhounds. Insofar as there may be shortcomings in our regulations and a requirement to prosecute where there are breaches of the law, the Department is considering all those matters. In terms of closing down knackeries, we should make haste slowly. They perform a really critical function. There may be breaches of regulations or there may be weaknesses in the law as regards how they operate in the disposal of pets and that is an issue we will examine.