Agricultural Produce (Meat) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1978: Report Stage .

Wednesday, 14 June 1978

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 307 No. 7

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Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  : I move amendment No. 1:

In page 2, after line 46, to insert the following:

“(4) The supplier of the animal or animals, or an agent appointed [1086] by him, shall have the right to be present while the carcases of his animals are being classified. This provision shall not apply to the classification of individual cuts of meat but only to the classification of whole carcases.”.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure in relation to the classification scheme that the farmer has a right to see his animal being classified. We encourage farmers to sell animals to the factory, and it is important that we do so because if cattle are sold to the factory they are slaughtered and processed there and employment is given. If they are sold in the mart they may be exported live and employment which could be given is not given. If a farmer sends his cattle to the mart and he does not like the price he is offered, he can withdraw the cattle. If he sends them to the factory and he does not like the price, they will be dead and he will not be able to get them back. The price will be determined by the factory on the basis of the classification of the animal and the farmer should see that an animal is being fairly classified. If he is to accept the price he is getting on the basis of the classification scheme and if he is to accept the scheme itself, he must have confidence in that scheme. If he feels than an unfair system is being operated in classifying animals in factories and that as a result he is not getting the price he should get, he will not send his cattle to the factories; he will send them to the mart where, if he does not like the price, he can withdraw them. That is a very strong argument in favour of the amendment. It will encourage farmer confidence both in the classification scheme and in sending their animals to the factories.

The Minister may well argue that this could create difficulties for the factories. I do not believe it will. Cattle are usually sent in in loads and one farmer sends in one load. At any given time there will be one or two farmers present wherever the animals are being classified. It is not a question of having crowds of farmers coming in from all corners of the country. This amendment confers [1087] a right only on the farmer whose own cattle are being classified or on an agent appointed by him. The possibility of appointing an agent is inserted in the amendment because I understand that in some cases the IFA are prepared to ask someone to act as an agent in the factory for farmers in a particular area. I have some personal connection with people involved in this aspect of the activities of the IFA. If that arrangement were entered into, it would not even be necessary for individual farmers to go in and out of the factory looking at their animals being classified because there would be someone on the spot representing them and seeing that there was fairness. That is a reasonable proposal.

Another point that the Minister made in dealing with this on Committee Stage was that the factories were private institutions and did not have to allow anybody into their premises. The reality is that most factories, if asked, are prepared to allow people in voluntarily as it is. I think there is one group that has a policy of encouraging farmers to come in to see their cattle being slaughtered. We all know how essential it is for farmers to realise the importance of breeding the right type of animal to get into the top class in the classification scheme. How better could this message be brought home to farmers than by their seeing their animal being classified in a relatively less desirable class compared with another animal from another farmer that they may well know, which may be pointed out to them and which has been classed as top grade? A farmer will be able to say then: “I know now: I can see the difference between my animal and his. I can see why the classification is made as it is. I know how I fed my cattle; I know how he fed his cattle and I can see the difference. I know why he got into the I class while I only got into the L class. There could be no more graphic object lesson in the better management and breeding of cattle than seeing one's own animal classified.

We know the great reluctance of [1088] farmers to accept anything in words unless they can see it for themselves. That is why there is so much emphasis in agricultural extension on farm demonstration, farm walks, on bringing farmers to other farms to see things actually working. It is not enough to take a farmer to a lecture hall and say: “This is how your farm should be run; these figures prove that a particular system is more successful than another.” The farmer will not in many cases be persuaded by that but he will be persuaded by a visit to another farm to see the system being spoken about in action so that he can actually look at the cattle, see the buildings and see the system working. That is well accepted in agricultural extension here and abroad.

This amendment merely seeks to apply the same principle to the slaughter of animals and to achieve a better type of animal by letting the farmer see things for himself in a way nobody can achieve by telling him or by sending him facts, figures and data. It cannot be achieved in that way as effectively as it can be achieved if the farmer goes into the factory, sees the animals being slaughtered and classified.

We have a big task ahead in selling the classification scheme because, mark my words, there will be strident criticism from some quarters once the scheme is introduced. The scheme is based on the personal judgment of different inspectors in different parts of the country, some in Kerry, some in Monaghan, but all supposed to be operating the same scheme to the same standard. Of course the classifications they apply will relate very significantly to the price paid and I am sure there will be complaints from farmers, not all of them, but from individuals that different standards are being applied in different places, that if you send an animal to one factory it is easier to get into the I class than if you send it to another.

I have no doubt that largely if not wholly these complaints will be unjustified because I am confident that the Minister will ensure, as he said, that those doing the classification will be well trained. But that does not take [1089] from the truth of my prediction that complaints will be made and made stridently. If they are made often enough they will undermine the farmer's faith in classification. How better to make sure that his faith is maintained and that this sort of criticism is not sustained than by ensuring that the farmer can go into the factory and see his animal being classified? It is a safeguard against the undermining, for good reasons or ill, of faith in the future of the classification scheme if this amendment is accepted. I hope the Minister will accept it. I have modified it to make it easy for the Minister to accept it by providing that it may be an agent of the farmer appointed by him. This could avoid the necessity to have individual farmers going into the factory one after the other. I am not asking for classification of individual cuts of meats in the farmer's presence because that does not arise until the animal has been cut up and by that time it may not be possible to say that a cut belongs to a particular farmer's animal or to some other farmer's animal. It would not be operable if that took place. Therefore I confined the amendment to the classification of whole carcases which I think is a reasonable suggestion to ensure farmer confidence in classification and hence its success in its stated objectives.

Mr. D'Arcy: Information on Michael D'Arcy  Zoom on Michael D'Arcy  : I should like to support the amendment which I think is a very reasonable and essential one in order to protect the interests of the farmer. I have not heard the arguments from the Minister on the other side but classification is something new, we know how much of the price can be for A, B, C and D—I presume these will be the symbols used as they have been used up to now—and we know of the great difficulty that arises when there is an over-supply. When there is an over-supply they are all Bs, Cs and Ds; when there is an undersupply they are all As. We have seen this in practically every sphere of agriculture and I am sure the Minister has seen it. We saw it with wheat. When there was an over-supply the wheat was all unmillable; when there was an under-supply it was all millable. These [1090] are areas in which we must protect the farmer as regards the sale of his stock.

Debate adjourned.

Business suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

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