Tuesday, 7 November 1978
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Bermingham: asked the Minister for Agriculture if he is aware of the effect of the 30-day TB and brucel-losis tests for the sale of cattle on (a) marts and (b) small sellers, such as people selling two or three cattle at one time.
Mr. Donnellan: asked the Minister for Agriculture if he is aware of the discontent among farmers, particularly in the west of Ireland, as a result of the introduction of the 30-day test; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. Donnellan: asked the Minister for Agriculture if he is aware that the introduction of the 30-day brucellosis and TB tests will create a hardship on farmers in the west of Ireland, particularly store-cattle producers; and if he is prepared to amend the proposal.
I am very much aware of the vital im-portance of speeding up progress in the eradication of bovine TB and brucellosis in order to guarantee the survival of our export trade in livestock, meat and dairy produce. I am also aware that to achieve that progress it is necessary to control the movement of diseased animals so as to prevent the continuing spread of infection to disease-free herds. The 30-day pre-movement test is, therefore, a key element in the comprehensive programme to accelerate disease eradication which I announced some time ago and which has been approved by the EEC.
 The EEC legislation makes no provision for a 60-day test. Apart from that, however, I am satisfied that the 30-day test is fully justified on veterinary grounds and for the protection it will afford to all those farmers who purchase stock from time to time. I do not, therefore, propose to replace it with a 60-day test.
Mr. Bermingham: Is the Minister aware that the extra 30 days wait is a great hardship to farmers? If a man brings his cattle to the market and does not sell within 30 days he can neither test nor sell for a further 30 days. Is the Minister aware that that is the situation?
Mr. Bermingham: That is where the whole trouble is. The farmer cannot move for another 30 days. I am not against the Minister in his efforts to clear away disease. That is vital. But this extra 30 days during which a farmer cannot sell or test is an unnecessary hardship because the cattle have been tested and found free of disease.
Mr. Gibbons: I do realise the implications. It is a difficulty that sellers will have to face up to because there is no answer to the question of whether one can move diseased cattle and sell them to one's neighbour or not. They cannot be sold. A 60-day test would be too long. Infection could easily take place in that time. It would be totally unsatisfactory and would not work and I have no intention of even considering a 60-day test. I do not want to be unreasonable about this but any prevarication or wishy-washy approach to this vital question of disease eradication cannot be con-templated.
Mr. M. P. Murphy: Will the Minister accept that this 30-day test imposes a severe handicap on the small farmers in the west and south-west. Many of these sell only a single animal at fairs and marts. Will the Minister not reconsider the impact this 30-day test will have on some farmers? Am I to assume that a farmer with a single animal for a fair in south Kerry or Galway must employ a vet, pay £8 for the vet to travel out, plus the cost of the test of the animal? He must go to all this expense before he can take that animal to a fair or mart. Surely the Minister's move is completely unreasonable so far as such farmers are concerned. We have no evidence that the many schemes that were brought in since——
Mr. Gibbons: The rate of charges indicated by the Veterinary Union does seem to militate against people selling small lots of cattle. It does not exclude either private arrangements that may be made between the veterinary surgeon and the herd-owner. There is no doubt that a burden will be borne by herd owners but there is no avoiding that burden. We cannot permit a situation to continue where reactors are being sold from farmer to farmer in the marts and fairs. In the past five years the incidence of both brucellosis and TB almost doubled and we must reverse that trend quickly and stop the nonsense. That is what I propose to do.
Mr. Bruton: Would the Minister agree, notwithstanding the need for an accelerated programme, that as a result of this package the financial burden will fall most heavily on smaller producers of store cattle? Does the Minister accept that proposition and, if so, what will he do about it? Is he perfectly satisfied that the veterinary evidence is compelling that it is not possible to do another test without a further 30-day waiting period?
Mr. Gibbons: The charge made by veterinary surgeons has been for a long time in the region of £4 per visit. If the same herd owner of a single beast or two beasts had to send for the veterinary surgeon for some other veterinary reason he would have to pay the £4 visit fee. That has not changed. The scale of charges indicated by the Veterinary Union is taking care of the fact that in the case of a tuberculosis test it is necessary for the test to be read. It must first be administered and then read some hours afterwards. It involves a second visit. There is no way in which the difficulty of stopping reactor cattle being sold in the marts to anyone who is foolish enough to buy them can be avoided except by the application across the board to everybody selling cattle. Only in that way will herd owners, large and small, be protected from the danger of buying a reactor at the mart. I am trying to protect herd owners of all sizes from buying reactors as they have been doing in the past. In that regard our performance in the past has been absolutely indefensible. I propose to change that.
Mr. Gibbons: I will deal with that question and Deputy Bruton's question together. The question of a re-test after the first test is purely a veterinary matter. My advice is that there must be an adequate waiting period because, if there is not, the effectiveness of the second test will be negatived. I am prepared to listen to veterinary advice alone on that subject. If the veterinary advice is otherwise and if it is sound, then I will act on it.
Mr. Blaney: I would ask the Minister whether all this could eventuate in the marts being made somewhat obsolete in that on-farm sales, conditional on the passing of tests, may now become the mode of operation, particularly for the small farmer on whom the burden of cost will be quite severe. Is the Minister aware of the extreme difficulty created for many herd owners by virtue of the date, despite the early warning notice of that date, because the second inspection for headage grants had not taken place and in some cases has not yet taken place? People were compelled to hold on to their animals, if they were to get the headage grants, until after the second test and the date on which this scheme came into operation intervened. These are the two things which are uppermost in the minds of small farmers in my part of the country. Is Deputy M.P. Murphy's question about cost not a very real one in so far as small farmers are concerned and will it not result in the ultimate analysis in small farmers being the losers to the extent of the additional test that will be required?
Mr. Gibbons: On the question of the possible redundancy of marts, there is absolutely no substance in this suggestion. On the day of the introduction of  the test it is true that the number of cattle shown in livestock marts was extremely small because there had been an exodus of cattle before that date in order to beat the deadline and the herd owners who bought before the deadline cattle which were untested did so at their own risk and were very ill-advised. Since that time the cattle have returned to the marts because a great many cattle must be sold. We are discovering that the application of the 30-day test is no more difficult than the application of the 14-day test which we had to apply long ago for export cattle. The difficulties are be-ing manufactured by vested interests who have an interest in maintaining the present situation, but it is my intention to change the present situation for the better.
Mr. Blaney: I would ask the Minister to ensure that what has been going on, and can still go on despite the 30-day test, will not be allowed to continue. The accredited areas, such as the area I come from, have now a higher incidence than when they were first tested in the fifties and this was going on while the eyes of the Department were wide open. I brought the carry-on to the notice of some of the officers of the Department.
Mr. Gibbons: I should be grateful to Deputy Blaney if he would let me have any relevant information which would lead to the apprehension of people involved in the criminal activity of frustrating the disease eradication scheme. It is necessary to say in connection with Deputy Blaney's observations that for a period of two years disease eradication was virtually abandoned and as a result of that abandonment of disease eradication we find ourselves in this really serious situation. This is not to say  that the situation which existed before was satisfactory; it was not. We cannot go on any longer making demands on the taxpayers year after year for an eradication programme that is not working. It is my intention to make this eradication scheme work.
Mr. Gibbons: ——and for Deputy Clinton, or anybody else, to seek to minimise the appalling cost of the cessation of testing is, to say the least of it, unbecoming—especially unbecoming on the part of Deputy Clinton.
Mr. Gibbons: When the question of the dispute between the Department of Agriculture, the Coalition Government and the veterinary unions arose Deputy Clinton did not have to contend with a hostile Fianna Fáil Party and I would remind him of that now.
Mr. M. P. Murphy: Seeing that it is mandatory to have this 30-day test would the Minister be prepared to accept part of the financial burden having regard to the fact, already adverted to, that many farmers sell cattle in small lots of ones, twos and threes and the cost per head, therefore, will be proportionately higher?
Mr. Gibbons: No, I would not because if you delay the scheme you prolong it and, if you prolong the scheme, you remove from herd owners of all sizes the prospect of selling from cleared herds at better prices. The sooner Deputy M.P. Murphy and people like him, who want to delay the scheme, put their shoulders behind the eradication scheme the better. While Deputy Murphy was in office in the Department of Agriculture he did damn little about disease eradication.
Mr. Gibbons: Deputy Donnellan should take the trouble to come in in time for questions and then he would hear the replies given. To stroll in late and start asking supplementaries which had already been asked and answered is treating the House with disrespect, if I may say so.
Mr. Donnellan: asked the Minister for Agriculture if he is aware that the 30-day brucellosis and TB tests have not been fully explained to farmers; and that no reference has been made at all to shipping certificates.
Mr. Gibbons: I am not so aware. A number of advertisements and press releases have been issued on the subject by my Department. Circular letters were sent to all veterinary practitioners and to marts. Posters were also supplied to marts for display. The measures have, in fact, attracted a remarkable amount of publicity and I am satisfied that farmers are fully aware of their responsibilities in the matter.
Mr. Donnellan: I would like to remind the Minister that farmers are not fully aware of their responsibility. They are not fully aware that it is necessary for them, if they have cattle ready for shipment to get a shipping test, and the Minister should make it clear, or a little bit clearer to these farmers, that it is necessary to have an extra certificate. At present they are not actually aware of that.
Mr. Gibbons: If I may, on the supplementary speech made by Deputy Donnellan, say that there has been an enormous amount of publicity given, especially on television, to this very subject and I would like to know what Deputy Donnellan wants me to do as well as that.
Mr. Bruton: asked the Minister for Agriculture the average cost to the farmer of carrying out a pre-movement test for (a) brucellosis and (b) tuberculosis; the likely delay between the time of test and the availability of the result; and if his Department will use the aid they are getting towards the accelerated disease eradication programme from the EEC to reduce or eliminate the cost of the tests to small producers of store cattle.
I do not propose to use the expected FEOGA aid in the way proposed by the Deputy. In fact the significant increases in rates of compensation payable on reactors which were introduced last January took account of the anticipated FEOGA contribution the first instalment of which will not in any event be received until next year.
Mr. Gibbons: As the Deputy may have noticed, payment will not be made until next year and, since the period is so long, to begin to talk about it literally years in advance would be, in my opinion, unnecessary.
Mr. Bruton: Does the Minister accept that it is not sufficient for him to say the fee is a matter for settlement between the farmer and the veterinarian when he knows that this is not analogous to the ordinary arrangement between the veterinary surgeon and the farmer because this particular exercise is being  required of him by law and, therefore, the Minister has a special responsibility to ensure excessive fees are not charged to farmers, particularly farmers with small herds in remote areas, and will he give a guarantee that the delays mentioned—three days in the case of tuberculosis and five to seven days in the case of brucellosis—will not be exceeded?
Mr. Blaney: Might I draw the attention of the Minister and the House to the fact that we are not, in fact, talking about 30 days. We are talking about 21 or 22 days, within which a farmer who gets his animal tested must sell and the small farmer will be held up for ransom on and from the introduction of this scheme because of the high incidence of cost in relation to one or two cattle. Bringing them back means that he has got to do it again. He does not have several opportunities and he does not have 30 days. It will be 22 days at the very most to make a sale and, if he does not sell, he is out another £8 or £10.
Mr. Gibbons: I do not deny this is an inconvenience to herd owners and I said so in reply to an earlier question. There is no getting away from the fact it is an inconvenience to herd owners but there will be other inconveniences under disease eradication. There is no painless way to the eradication of disease. Neither is it a proper approach to start whining and wailing over every real and imagined inconvenience. This is a very serious and pressing matter and it is one that cannot be delayed.
Mr. Donnellan: asked the Minister for Agriculture if he is aware that the absence of a bloodtesting centre in Connacht for the analysis of bovine blood samples taken in respect of brucellosis tests on herds is causing an undue delay in the results of these tests being made available to herd owners; and if he will take immediate steps to rectify the situation.
Mr. Kenny: asked the Minister for Agriculture if he will consider the setting up of a laboratory in Castlebar, County Mayo, for the purpose of determination of brucellosis in blood samples under the 30-day pre-movement test for cattle.
The facilities at my Department's laboratory at Thorndale in Dublin are designed to cater efficiently for the entire volume of brucellosis blood-testing arising in all areas in the foreseeable future. There is no undue delay in the issue of results by the laboratory.
Mr. Donnellan: Having regard to what the Minister said, I am aware that there is undue delay. When a farmer has to send blood to Dublin for analysis, he has only 20 days or possibly less to sell his animals by the time it comes back. Surely the Minister must be aware of that? Surely he must have read my question in which I asked if he would consider setting up some centre in Connacht where this blood can be analysed west of the Shannon.
Mr. Gibbons: I should be grateful if the Deputy would let me have particulars of any undue delay that has taken place because I am assured by the Department, and I believe, that there is  no undue delay. The setting up of a laboratory for this specialised task of brucellosis blood testing in the province of Connacht could not be contemplated in view of the present financial strictures.
Mr. Begley: In view of the fact that the State Laboratory will be on holidays from December 15 to January 15 can the Minister say what will happen in regard to farmers who send up blood during that period especially during the 30-day test?
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