Tuesday, 21 March 1961
Dáil Eireann Debate
In relation to the use of poisons for agricultural and veterinary purposes, including regulations prohibiting, restricting or controlling the use of poisons or particular poisons for agricultural or veterinary purposes or particular agricultural or veterinary purposes.
We are prepared to agree with such regulations to control the use of poisonous materials for agricultural purposes because there are poisonous sprays which, unless used with special precautions, may cause unexpected damage not only to crops but to the health of those putting them out or, indeed, to the health of neighbours who may inadvertently come in contact with them. When you come to veterinary preparations, however, we think power should not be vested in the Minister to control the use of particular poisons used for veterinary purposes.
Now the word “poison” in ordinary use has a pejorative sense, but, in the context of this Bill, any substance can be scheduled as a poison and thereafter comes within the ambit of the Bill. The Minister points out that, as the law stands, a preparation like penicillin is not scheduled as a poison. There is a wide variety of other antibiotics—acromycin, aureomycin—and the list continues continually to grow.  I can well imagine at some subsequent date a strong case being made to schedule all antibiotics. I can well imagine Deputy Dr. Browne painting lurid pictures for us of septicaemic infection raging through children's hospitals because a resistant strain of bacilli had developed through too frequent and casual contact with antibiotics. We are all weary of the stories surrounding the staphylococcus that has grown up with penicillin and now, in the fifth and sixth generation, bids defiance to it. It is argued that in some cases none of the newly discovered antibiotics will effectively control this resistant strain. Very probably, there is a great deal of truth in these stories, but they have little or no relevance to veterinary circumstances. You do not keep pigs in a hospital ward. In any case, the pig is fated to live, by its nature, for no more than 24 weeks; it is born to die and be converted into bacon.
What is the purpose of bringing in this power to control the use of poisons in their veterinary application? I can well understand the strict control of drugs of addiction, such as the derivatives of morphia. I can well understand the control of drugs in relation to which casual contact can do irreparable damage. I can understand their being controlled for all purposes. I fail to see why there should be a restriction on the use of poisons for veterinary purposes specifically set out in this Bill and including a power to make regulations prohibiting, restricting or controlling the use of these poisons. The apprehension rightly entertained, I think, by the agricultural community is that gradually we will be faced with regulations which will, in effect, put an obligation upon the farmer to hire a vet on each occasion on which he wishes to use one of these preparations. The cost of doing that will be simply prohibitive and the only result of it will be that the farmer will let the animal die.
The Minister may say: “But these preparations you have in mind will never be scheduled as poison.” That is the question. All we suggest here  is that where they are scheduled as poisons for the purpose of this Bill, which, after all, is an omnibus Bill for the general control of poisons, there should be no restrictions where they are intended for use only with animals. If the Minister says that, apart from what are technically defined poisons, there may be other substances which are of so dangerous a character that they must be controlled absolutely, such as heroin or morphia, I would be prepared to consider a proposal that there should be a special schedule of these substances rigidly controlling them for all purposes—we ought, of course, to know what they are—but that would be a very different proposition from the general proposition that there should be power here to regulate or prohibit, restrict or control, the use of substances scheduled as poisons under the general powers of this Bill. If we delete the word “veterinary” I think a great deal of the legitimate apprehension of the agricultural community will be removed. I urge the Minister, at least experimentally, to make that deletion and see how it works.
General MacEoin: I agree with what Deputy Dillon has said, but I want to go a little further. I go back to my youth. In the farrier trade, poisons were used in the care and cure of horses' feet. Some of the substances used were deadly poisons but the farrier could procure them by signing the book and stating the purpose for which he required them. He was, of course, known to the chemist and he was able to get whatever he wanted.
Even though the horse population is smaller than it was when I was there, it is still a specific for the cure of certain diseases well known to all reliable farriers. If this Bill passes, he no longer can get it or use it and must bring a veterinary surgeon to apply it or use it. These men, who know their business and know it well, should not be prohibited from exercising one of the arts of their trade.
I want to say that this is a trade secret of the farriers which they have never disclosed. It was passed on from father to son. It was passed from my  father to me and if we had an apprentice, it was only given to him in the last year of his apprenticeship on the solemn undertaking that he would not disclose it to anybody else. Now it can no longer be purchased by the farrier or be used by him in his trade.
Mr. MacEntee: I would like to correct a misapprehension under which Deputy MacEoin is labouring. There is nothing in this section which empowers regulations to be made regulating or prohibiting the sale of drugs so that, as far as Section 15 of the Bill is concerned, the farrier or his apprentice to whom Deputy MacEoin refers can still go to the chemist and bring back the secret remedy, that is, if they still use it. In order to put that amendment No. 15, specifically written that reservation into the Bill. So far matter beyond doubt, I have, in as the purchase or sale of poisons which are used in agriculture or for veterinary purpose are concerned, the Deputy, or any other member of the House who has apprehensions about the matter, can rest easy in his mind.
Mr. MacEntee: We are not dealing in this Bill with traditional remedies. If the only poisonous substances which are being rapidly developed were the remedies which were in habitual use by the farming community over the years, we should have no problem. This Bill would not be necessary. The world has moved on even since the time when Deputy MacEoin was a boy and new substances are being developed with great rapidity. It is one of the problems of modern medical practice, and, I might add, of modern veterinary practice, to keep up with the new drugs that are coming on the market. The problem with which we have to deal arises from the fact that many of these new drugs are deadly poisonous, if improperly used. Many of these poisons find their way into veterinary products.
The Leader of the Opposition and  Deputy O'Higgins did not close their eyes to that problem. They said that they had not any great objection to the section as it stands if it confines itself to substances which are used in agriculture. Deputy Dillon referred to the fact that many sprays and insecticides and other material could be poisonous to beasts as well as to humans. Therefore, the Opposition were not prepared to deny that the Minister for Agriculture, having some responsibility for the general care and welfare of agriculture in this country, should have power to control the use of these dangerous substances when they are utilised for agricultural purposes.
Surely, it is not very logical to say that these substances should be controlled because their use may be dangerous to the human being or the farm animal and then to say that you will not give the Minister power to regulate or control the use of perhaps the same substance, or derivatives of that substance, if used for veterinary purposes. I cannot see the force of that. The Opposition are prepared to allow these poisons used for agricultural purposes to be regulated and controlled in use because they are dangerous to human beings or animals. It is a secondary danger. It arises from the fact that they might be taken orally, by inhalation or even by contact. They are absorbed only in minute doses and their toxicity is not immediately noticeable, but it grows over time and the animal or human being falls ill or dies.
If you are going to do that in relation to those substances utilised in agriculture, how can you say that it is unreasonable to try to regulate the use of these new drugs for veterinary purposes? That, it seems to me, is a question to which you cannot find a logical or reasonable answer. It is not, as Deputy Dillon suggests, a case of a farmer allowing, by the misuse of these drugs, his beast to die. If that were all we had to take care of, we would not be very much concerned. The trouble is that some of these new drugs can be very harmful to human beings and when we speak of controlling the use of them, what is really intended is that  the regulations will prescribe how they can be safely used. In the vast majority of cases, they prescribe that they should not be applied by the person without some sort of protection against their absorption in the ways I have mentioned. Take the case of medication for the warble fly. We all know that derris powder has been very successfully used——
Mr. MacEntee: It is dead? I said it has been very successfully used. Deputy Dillon has been good enough to remind me that it has fallen into disuse and that no person uses it now. No doubt they use another substance, a substance which may be given as a drench or applied as a lotion. These preparations contain phosphorus. As is commonly known, phosphorus is a very deadly poison. There is a very great risk indeed that a person applying one of these new preparations containing phosphorus may be poisoned himself.
Mr. MacEntee: Wait now. It is not a case of drinking this drench or licking this ointment. It is a case of a person applying it without taking precautions against his injury. If a person drinks iodine, I presume he drinks it because he is tired of life or wants to make people believe he is tired of life. No person, if he is applying a drench to a beast or applying a balsam or ointment, does that for the sake of trying to commit suicide or pretending to commit suicide. There is a danger; and the members of the Opposition, for the purpose of making debating points, ought not lose sight of it. Not only that, but it has been well established that the meat or milk from animals which have been treated in this way may cause illness. Surely we are entitled to try to safeguard the consumer of the meat or milk against that contingency?
Mr. MacEntee: The Deputy knows as well as I do what I said. I said that if milk or meat from an animal treated in this way is sold within a certain time, not a very specific time, those who eat the meat or drink the milk may become very ill indeed because the phosphatic poison is to be found in the milk and in the flesh of that animal. Surely we must have regard to that fact when we are discussing this? We are not just talking about prohibiting the farmer from giving a dose to a pig. What we are really trying to ensure is that human beings will not suffer.
There are other preparations which contain antimony and mercury, both deadly poisons. Antimony is used for treating foot rot in sheep and mercury preparations are used for treating lameness in horses. Surely if preparations containing these deadly poisons are to be sold and put into common use, we are entitled to take, in relation to them, the same sort of precautions as we take in regard to weed killers? Deputy MacEoin was talking about the master farrier going to the chemist or druggist, buying dangerous drugs containing poison and having to sign the book for them. Do you not have to do that if you are buying weed killer? Does there not have to be a record? If you make regulations prescribing that a person who wants to buy weed killer must sign the book and that he must be readily identified by the chemist, what objection can you have to enforcing the same order in respect of a person who wants to buy a veterinary preparation which contains antimony or mercury?
The principal constituent of weed killer is, I understand, arsenic. Some sheep dips contain arsenic. Is it not necessary to ensure that in the manufacture of the sheep dip the arsenic content will be kept at a level which will not poison even the animal?
Mr. MacEntee: Yes. Do you not think, being dangerous to human life, it should be subject to certain safeguards? Go into any factory in this country and you will find that around every machine there is placed a safety fence.
Mr. MacEntee: Any moving belt has to be enclosed in such a way as to ensure that no human being will be injured by accidental contact. If you do that in relation to all manufacturing industry, is there any great objection or any reasonable objection to ensuring that, whenever farmers are handling dangerous substances, they will handle them in such a way that there will be the least possible risk to themselves or anybody else? That is why this section applies to veterinary preparations as well as preparations used in agriculture.
What possibility is there under Section 18 of the Bill, as it stands, that any of these things referred to by Deputy Dillon and Deputy MacEoin could happen? Every regulation made under this Bill must come before this House and if there were anything wrong in a regulation which might interfere unreasonably or irrationally with the ordinary safe use of these preparations, it would be pounced upon immediately in the House.
Mr. MacEntee: It would be pounced upon not only by the Opposition but by members of this side of the House as well. Is that not the great safety of this—that any regulation made under Sections 14 or 15  must come before the House? What is the reason, at this stage, honestly to suggest that the provision applying these safeguards to veterinary preparations should be taken out of the Bill? Why not give the Minister power to make regulations, which must come before the House? If the Minister for Agriculture should be foolish enough to come to the House and to find the weight of argument against him from both sides, surely he will not persist in making the regulation.
I think we have a great safeguard here. I suggest it is not wise to exclude veterinary preparations from the context of the section. We should let the Bill go as it stands and wait to see the first regulations made. If the Minister for Agriculture is not content to be judicious in a matter of this kind, it is quite possible for the Opposition to bring in a Private Members' Bill to give effect to the amendment they are proposing to this section.
Mr. Dillon: We accept the necessity for controlling the poisons used for agricultural purposes because their ordinary user involves the dissemination of a spray. That means the spray floats on the wind. It may float back on the sprayer to his detriment; it may float over the ditch on to neighbour's crops; or it may float on to a neighbour and do him serious injury. It is because it is of the nature of agricultural chemicals to be used as a spray that we recognise they fall into a special category. When we come to veterinary preparations, we are face to face with the established fact that when you attach the label poison to anything, you seem to discuss it in a wholly special atmosphere.
It is a dangerous commodity. Then you come to discuss butter of antimony and in so far as the Minister knows, nobody in South Tipperary, for instance, has had himself sprayed with butter of antimony. There are a variety of poisons which are exclusively used in the treatment of animals' ills, such as copper sulphate which is commonly used in the treatment of foot-rot in sheep. If you drank it, you would poison yourself. You could burn yourself with it, but you would  not and if you did it once, you would not do it a second time.
But you could poison yourself with practically any commodity you picked up on the road if you wanted to poison yourself with it. I cannot avoid the feeling that the Minister is sticking to his brief and there is no use wasting breath on futile argument. Anybody with practical experience in this matter readily recognises the fundamental distinction between the use to which veterinary preparations used as sprays for agriculture are put. Most people will recognise the reasonableness of providing for the proper control  of agricultural sprays, owing to the development of the last ten years during which new and highly dangerous sprays have come into common use, particularly in connection with tillage crops. I do not think, however, that I am going to carry conviction to the Minister's mind. He is certainly not going to convey conviction to my mind. This is an amendment on which we would wish to divide.
|Blaney, Neil T.
Brady, Philip A.
Calleary, Phelim A.
Collins, James J.
Cummins, Patrick J.
Egan, Kieran P.
Gogan, Richard P.
Healy, Augustine A.
Hillery, Patrick J.
Johnston, Henry M.
Kennedy, Michael J.
Millar, Anthony G.
Moloney, Daniel J.
Ó Briain, Donnchadh.
Ó Ceallaigh, Seán.
Costello, Declan D.
Crotty, Patrick J.
Dillon, James M.
Flanagan, Oliver J.
Jones, Denis F.
Kyne, Thomas A.
O'Higgins, Michael J.
O'Higgins, Thomas F.
O'Sullivan, Denis J.
Palmer, Patrick W.
General MacEoin: The Minister in his reply on a previous amendment said that this amendment allowed me to buy this material but the Bill prevents my using it. I am allowed to buy the stuff and to leave it in the forge, but then I have to get a veterinary surgeon to help me put it on, the veterinary surgeon knowing nothing about it. The number of farriers in Ireland who do this is about ten. It is their trade secret. They are being prevented from using it in future and they must make it known to everybody.
Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: It is worth reminding the House that, having defeated the amendment proposed to Section 14, the House is now passing the section which makes it an offence for any farmer to use a remedy which  he may have been accustomed to use and which consists of a poison scheduled under this Bill. Under this section, he will be guilty of an offence and may be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £100 and further penalties for a continuing offence.
It is worth reminding Fianna Fáil Deputies that is the logical result of a division in which they voted a few minutes ago defeating the amendment to delete “veterinary” purposes from the earlier section. Henceforth, any farmer who does not comply with the regulations which may be made regarding the use of remedies for different maladies and illnesses of a farm animal he owns and who attempts to use these remedies himself contrary to the regulations can be hauled up in the district court and fined a sum not exceeding £100. If he does not pay the fine, he may be marched off to jail to serve a term of imprisonment because of this Bill and the section it contains.
Mr. MacEntee: Surely that is a premature release. The Deputy no doubt will try to repeat that in the course of the coming general election but let me remind him that, if he does, by that time, regulations under this Bill will have been before the House and that would seem to be a very shallow threat indeed. What the Deputy wishes people to believe is that a district justice will impose a fine of £100 upon a man who uses once a drug contrary to the regulations. I doubt if any district justice would impose that for a breach of such a regulation.
Mr. MacEntee: Yes, but the whole virtue of imposing a responsibility rests in the fact that it will be reasonably discharged. I assume our district justices are not going to act unreasonably or if they do, we might have them examined under the Mental Treatment Act and consign them to a place where they may be cured.
General MacEoin: He has done more than that. I submit he has given the district justice power not only to fine my farrier £100 but to sentence him to six months in jail along with it, because the provision reads:
If the Minister has assured his colleagues in the Fianna Fáil Party that the regulation he intends to make is the reason they should go so happily through the Division Lobby, I can understand it, but if that is the case, he should have given us an indication so that we could have given the Minister the provision without trotting him through the Lobby.
Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: The position now is that under the sections we have passed, when this Bill becomes law, if a farmer uses a sheep rub, an ordinary well-known sheep rub, butter of antimony or whatever it may be, he commits an offence and under the powers given in this section he can be sent to jail for six months and fined £100.
Mr. MacEntee: I do not mind Deputy MacEoin advertising himself as one of the ten farriers in Ireland who had this secret remedy. How does he know it will be a poisonous substance under the regulations——
“( ) When a regulation under section 14 or 15 of this Act which has been made without prior consultation with the Council is laid before each House of the Oireachtas it shall be accompanied by a statement in writing indicating that the regulation has been made without prior consultation with the Council.”
I think Deputy Michael O'Higgins suggested on the Second Stage that some steps should be taken by the Minister, in the event of a regulation having been made as a matter of urgency, to draw the attention of the House specifically to the fact that the regulation was made without having  consulted the council. This amendment makes it obligatory on the Minister to indicate in writing to the House when the regulation comes before it that the regulation has been made without consulting the council.
Mr. MacEntee: I think this is clear on the face of it. The Geneva Convention was made by the League of Nations in 1925 and the sole purpose  is to substitute in the definition sections the appropriate references to the Convention in the Protocol which was signed at Lake Success at 1946.
Mr. MacEntee: There are some drafting amendments to the Schedule. I move amendment No. 17:
In column (2), to delete “Sale of”.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. MacEntee: I move amendment No. 18:
In page 8, to delete
|“38 & 39 Vic., c.57.||Pharmacy Act (Ireland) 1875.||Section 30, in so far as it prohibits the sale of or the keeping of open shop for retailing, dispensing or compounding poisons.”|
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule, as amended, agreed to. agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Report Stage ordered for Wednesday, 12th April, 1961.
|Last Updated: 15/09/2010 11:15:42||Page of 19|