Abattoirs Bill, 1987 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 25 November 1987

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 375 No. 8

First Page Previous Page Page of 93 Next Page Last Page

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. J. Walsh): Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  The fundamental aim of this Bill is to meet the need for a comprehensive and uniform set of national quality standards for meat for the home market.

Since taking on responsibility for food, I have repeatedly stressed the need to build on our reputation as a country which produces, processes and markets top quality food products in a wholesome environment. The Bill now before the House should be seen as an important element in this strategy. My reason for introducing it is not only to enhance the good reputation we already have but also to push us along to even greater standards of quality and wholesomeness.

Local abattoirs are supervised by veterinary inspectors employed by the sanitary authorities and/or environmental health officers from health boards. The lack of proper and uniform standards is due partly to this diffusion of control and also to the fact that outside the major centres of population the veterinary inspectors are, for the most part, employed on a part-time basis only. Of the 160 veterinary inspectors employed in the local authority veterinary service only 24 are full-time employees. These full-time officers are concentrated in only nine local authority areas.

As regards knackeries, it must be acknowledged that a valuable and practical [1823] service is rendered to the farming community by the majority of these premises. However, I am not satisfied that the activities of all correspond with the best interests of both public and animal health. This is the reason for tightening up the controls applicable to knackeries as provided for in the Bill.

Existing legislation, some of it dating from the mid-19th century, places responsibility for the control of local abattoirs and knackeries on 87 sanitary authorities. In addition, there is the separate existence of 11 Local Improvement Acts each of which contains provisions relating to abattoirs within the area of the sanitary authority concerned. It could be said that the present unsatisfactory position regarding local slaughtering premises is at least partly due to both the number and the antiquated nature of the laws themselves just as much as it is to the discretionary powers they give to sanitary authorities to administer them. Some authorities have not adopted meat inspection by-laws and only about 70 per cent of abattoirs are licensed. Add to that the predominantly part-time veterinary control exercised over these premises and it is easy to understand the variations in standards and practices as applied from county to county. Moreover, the penalties for breaches of the existing legislation are so small as to render prosecutions largely ineffective.

These divergent standards are also manifested in the trading area and nowhere more so than in the pigmeat sector. The House is aware that the pigmeat industry has gone through some difficult times. Increased competition on the home and export markets has presented the licensed bacon plants with serious problems. The Government and the industry have seen the need to tackle these problems and rationalisation of the processing sector, which is so vital to the survival of the whole industry, is now in progress. The Government, through the IDA, along with FEOGA, are providing substantial capital investment for the sector. However, rationalisation and [1824] investment will not be enough by themselves. Currently just 30 per cent of pigs slaughtered are exported. The bulk of the kill, therefore, is chasing a domestic market in which significant inroads have been made by local pork butchers in the last five years. Pig slaughterings by pork butchers have increased by 70 per cent during this period. The licensed bacon plants are thus being placed at a competitive disadvantage vis-á-vis their unlicensed competitors owing to the cost of observing stringent hygiene standards and payment of veterinary inspection fees. It would be nothing short of farcical if those who seek to adhere to the highest standards are penalised costwise compared to those who are producing at lesser standards. Unless competitive equality can be restored to the home market I can see prices paid to pig producers suffering in the long term. Through the extension of veterinary controls and inspection fees to all local slaughterings this Bill should also provide useful assistance to the pigmeat industry as a whole.

The butchers' trade itself has been undergoing change. The development of slaughtering facilities by wholesale establishments has cut the number of private abattoirs by about 350 since the early seventies. Slaughtering for their own businesses would appear to have become unattractive for many small butchers particularly at a time when labour and other costs are continually increasing. Consumer preferences and concerns have also pushed the trade into change. Other challenges to be met include meat substitutes, the prospect of increased imports of fresh meat and meat products and new EC controls on domestic meat supplies. Clearly, now more than ever the trade needs to be flexible and adaptive. To their credit, most people in the trade recognise the need for fresh ground rules on the preparation of meat and also the need to root out the cowboy operators who can give the trade a bad name. Most of our abattoirs are owned by family butchers, many of whom have been in the trade for generations. Their names and good reputations underpin the quality of [1825] their meat. I am sure this Bill will greatly assist them in making the transition from the old to the new while securing an enhanced reputation for the meat they produce.

The Bill proposes two major divisions of responsibility aimed at improving standards. These are: licensing of premises by the Department of Agriculture and Food and the vesting in the 27 county councils and the five county borough corporations of veterinary control of premises, including supervision of all slaughterings.

As I mentioned earlier, because licensing of premises is lax in many areas and given the Bill's objective of establishing a national domestic standard on a par with export standards, there is a need for a central licensing body, at least in the short term. In the initial stages therefore, my Department, which for long have been closely involved with the export meat plants and have the necessary expertise to do this job, will control licensing. The enforcement of the new veterinary controls will continue to be exercised at local level. Each of the major local authorities, or where warranted a combination of not more than two authorities, will be obliged to employ at least one full time officer. All slaughterings will be subject to veterinary examination by way of ante and post-mortem inspection and all meat found fit for human consumption will be stamped with a health mark. There will also be regular inspections of knackeries. Veterinary inspection fees will be introduced on slaughterings at local abattoirs at the same levels as those applicable at the export plants.

At present, full supervision of slaughterings is conducted by a very small minority of local authorities, notably in Dublin and Cork where all meat for human consumption carries a health mark. It is not good enough that full slaughtering controls should be confined to a handful of areas. As I mentioned earlier, this Bill will provide a national standard at the highest level and one which can be readily identified by consumers. [1826] It will provide an assurance to the Irish housewife that meat being sold on the home market has been prepared under hygienic conditions and is fresh, wholesome and in every way fit for human consumption. In this way also it should provide a major fillip to the trade in its efforts to increase consumption of red meat.

In the preparation of the Bill there has been considerable consultation with the various interests concerned including the domestic meat trade, local authorities and the veterinary associations. My approach and that of my officials has been open and flexible while not losing sight of the basic aim of creating the framework for top quality production, processing and hygiene standards in the domestic meat sector. We have taken on board many suggestions made in the course of these consultations and we have also incorporated some amendments put forward during the Seanad debate on the Bill. I will refer to these in dealing with the detailed provisions of the Bill which I now move on to.

Section 2 contains definitions of the terms used in the Bill. In the course of the Bill's passage in the Seanad, the home slaughtering concession provided for under the definition of “abattoir” was restricted to the killing of a pig or of an injured animal to prevent suffering. This restriction was prompted by the trade's concern that any wider concession would lead to wholesale abuse. Some Senators had sought that farmers should also be allowed slaughter a lamb without being subject to the Bill's controls. The facility to kill a pig on the farm reflects a longstanding farming tradition in this country. However, to allow for the slaughter of lambs on farms would offer far greater scope for abuse to unscrupulous individuals. Already, my Department have had reports of sheep carcases of dubious origin reaching city markets. There will be nothing in the Bill to prevent farmers, who so wish, from having a sheep or bovine professionally slaughtered in a licensed abattoir.

Poultry is excluded from the definition of animal because I am satisfied that [1827] slaughterings at non-export poultry plants are adequately covered under the food hygiene regulations. Similarly, deer and rabbits are excluded from the definition as commercial slaughterings of such species are, in the main, aimed at export markets and as such are already subject to controls. Should the situation arise where such species are slaughtered in significant numbers for the home market at our local abattoirs they can be brought within the scope of the Bill under subsection (3) of this section. However, to cater for poultry slaughterings leading up to Christmas time especially, and also for the occasional deer found in local abattoirs, provision is being made under section 39 (3) for such slaughterings to be subjected to veterinary examination.

Section 8 to 16 deal with abattoir licences and make it unlawful for a person to use any premises as an abattoir unless he holds a licence issued by my Department. A licence will be valid for 12 months from the date of issue. An annual licence fee at the following rates will be payable:

For abattoirs with annual slaughterings of

less than 500 animals £10
between 500-1,000 animals £50
in excess of 1,000 animals £100

Section 13 was amended in the Seanad to provide that on the death of a licence-holder the licence will continue in effect for the benefit of the personal representative of the deceased for two months or until its normal expiry whichever is the longer.

As the licensing authority it would be inappropriate for me to sit in judgment on an appeal against refusal or revocation of a licence. Accordingly, section 16 allows for appeals to lie to the Circuit Court. In the Seanad the request was made for the establishment of individual county appeals bodies to obviate, where possible, the necessity for recourse to the Circuit Court. I could not agree to such a request because I believe that, apart altogether from compositional difficulties, such an intermediate appeals [1828] system would prove to be largely redundant. My Department's basic approach to licensing of premises will be that all premises which are up to licensing standard will get a licence and any premises which is not up to licensing standard but which can, through improvements reach that standard, will get a permit as provided for under section 17.

A premises would need to be in a very poor state not to qualify for a permit and so I envisage that the number of cases arising which would not qualify for either a licence or a permit should be very few indeed. As public health will be the overriding consideration in cases of outright refusal or revocation I feel that recourse to the Circuit Court is the proper way to cater for appeals.

Arising from the 1982 survey of premises, which I mentioned earlier, it is evident that a number of premises will require modifications, in varying degree, to achieve the required standard. To meet this situation I am providing under section 17 for a permit system, somewhat like a provisional licence, for a transitional period of five years. A permit will be issued for a specified duration and will be renewable, if necessary, to allow proprietors time to bring their premises up to standard. It will have the same validity as a licence for all purposes under this Bill. I propose to have the permit indicate the improvements required, be they structural or in relation to equipment or otherwise. This permit system will only apply to abattoirs currently in existence and which are capable of being brought up to standard. The control of operations within slaughtering premises will be set out by me in regulations to be made under section 20. These regulations will embrace such matters as lairaging, core times during which slaughterings may take place, meat preparation and processing, the hygiene of staff, premises and equipment and the storage and disposal of animal wastes. As to the actual times of slaughter, these will be fixed by the local authorities in consultation with the trade. Sufficient flexibility will be provided for in the regulations to satisfy most [1829] needs and I would expect that local authorities will, in fixing times, have regard to business practice in their particular areas. However, the primary consideration will be that the arranged times must facilitate the veterinary examination of all slaughtered animals.

Part III of the Bill contains similar provisions in relation to knackeries. Two sections in this part of the Bill, however, warrant particular mention. In view of the activities of a number of rogue operators on the meat supply scene, section 22 places an absolute prohibition on the sale for human consumption of any meat which has originated in a knackery. From both the public health and animal health points of view, section 34 is important. Knackeries owe their existance in large measure to the diseases and accidents which beset livestock. They operate on the periphery of the agricultural sector without adequate controls on their activities. As I mentioned earlier, they perform a very necessary service to local farmers and butchers in collecting and disposing of dead animals and animal wastes. For hunt and greyhound kennels involved in the business it is a very practical and economic undertaking. The sad fact is, however, that the owners of some knackeries are less than scrupulous in their activities and other just careless when it comes to animal health or environmental matters. Section 34 will bring these premises under strict control. It will enable me to make regulations controlling sales from these premises such as meat at greyhound tracks, supplies to cats and dogs homes, etc. Advertising for dead or casualty animals will be regulated and the maintenance of specified records of animals handled in such premises will be obligatory. Hopefully, in this way also we should be able to get a better picture of animal losses and the causes of these losses.

Section 35 requires each local authority to employ sufficient veterinary inspectors, at least one of which must be full-time, to enforce the Bill's veterinary control provisions. Apart from supervision of the domestic meat trade the local authority veterinary service has a [1830] range of other functions. These include supervision of dairies and the liquid milk trade, organisation of the sheep dipping programme and attending to sheep scab outbreaks and other scheduled animal diseases. As the Minister responsible for the local authority veterinary service I am only too well aware that, in the absence of a full-time presence, attention to all such duties cannot but be less than satisfactory. As I mentioned earlier, veterinary control and inspection of meat and milk for the home market in over two-thirds of the country is done solely on a part time basis,. The provisions of section 35 will redress this situation through the establishment of a corps of permanent official veterinarians throughout the country. Subsection (4) of this section will allow any two local authorities, subject to my consent, to pool together for the purpose of making the full time veterinary appointment required. This facility is being provided to cater for a small number of local authority areas where it makes more sense, either logistically or on financial grounds, to combine for the purpose of providing a full time veterinary service.

This Bill will provide a guarantee that the meat leaving our abattoirs is in all respects fit for human consumption. It is important therefore that consumers can readily recognise that the meat they are buying has undergone and passed veterinary inspection. The application of a health mark to such meat will provide this assurance. Equally important, having particular regard to meat wholesaling, will be the control and tracing facility inherent in such marking. The health marking arrangements are set out in sections 40 to 42.

Sections 44 to 46 deal with the payment of veterinary inspection fees which will be payable on each animal slaughtered at the following rates per head: cattle £3.25, pigs £0.75 and sheep £0.55. These fees will be payable by the licence holder to the local authority. The fees are intended to provide a self-financing basis for the local authority veterinary service to be provided and are derived from an analysis of anticipated costs conducted [1831] by my Department. Provision is also being made to allow for the fees to be altered by way of regulations which will require prior Dáil and Seanad approval. In the Seanad I had to oppose an amendment seeking to link any variations in the fees with changes to the Consumer Price Index as such linkage could have no regard to actual cost. Moreover, the proposed rates are the same as those currently applicable at the export plants where inspection fees are not linked to the Consumer Price Index. Separately linking the fees for domestic abattoirs alone to annual changes in the CPI could give rise to an anomalous situation between the home and export trades. It could also work to the disadvantage of the domestic trade in certain circumstances.

The opportunity is being taken in this Bill to update a number of relevant provisions in other legislation as set out in Part VI. The amendments being made concern mainly the bringing of fees and fines into line with those proposed for abattoirs under this Bill. In relation to fines, the existing penalties for failure to license an abattoir or for violation of slaughtering by-laws are no more than £5 under the Towns Improvement Clauses Act, 1847. This minimal penalty has given rise to situations whereby it was no impediment to the slaughterer to continue in breach of the rules. Section 56 increases the penalties considerably with maximum fines of £1,000 or six months imprisonment or both on summary conviction and £10,000 or three years imprisonment or both on indictment. The level of these penalties should present a real deterrent to any would-be offender. As standards of public health and hygiene are the primary considerations I make no excuses for raising the fines to these levels. Should it be found necessary to do so at some future stage, I am also making provision to enable these fines to be increased by way of regulations which again would be subject to prior Dáil and Seanad approval.

Section 60 will allow me to monitor the application of the Bill's provisions in each [1832] area through returns to be made by the local authorities. These returns will be important also from a statistical point of view in that they will give an accurate picture of slaughterings for the home trade. They will also help to identify, to a greater extent, diseases affecting stock and to indicate whether they are cyclical or localised disease outbreaks. Section 61 will enable me to make regulations prescribing the requirements in relation to the construction, lay-out, siting, water supply and equipment of abattoirs and knackeries. It also provides that these requirements may be modified in relation to existing premises. These standards will be reasonable and realistic and should be attainable by the majority of butchers. The emphasis will be on hygiene which is a basic requirement in any food premises.

Local authority by-laws relating to abattoirs and knackeries and the inspection of meat will no longer be necessary as regulations to be made under this Bill will lay down the standards to be observed. Section 62 therefore has the effect of cancelling any such by-laws once the corresponding provisions of the Bill come into operation. Similarly, any by-laws relating to meat transport will be superseded by amended food hygiene regulations in relation to the transport of food. As regulations to be made under this Bill will, in future, set out the standards to be met in abattoirs and knackeries, section 67 excludes the provisions of the food hygiene regulations from applying to such premises. The food hygiene regulations will, however, continue to apply to the transport and retail sides of the meat trade.

These are the salient features of the Bill which I commend to the House and in so doing I would like to thank my predecessor in office and all the bodies who have contributed to its preparation. The trade particularly are to be complimented for the way they encouraged and sometimes pressed the Department to get on with this legislation. Some of them are the second and third generation of people in the trade and have tremendous pride in their profession and in the standard and quality of their product. I [1833] would like to acknowledge the contribution they made in consultation with the Department of Agriculture and Food. I acknowledge the welcome and support for the general thrust of the Bill from people from all parties in the House.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  This Bill is long overdue. In relation to both human and animal health there has been longstanding and growing concern about conditions and standards at many of the 856 slaughterhouses in the country. The need for action was further highlighted by the survey of slaughterhouses carried out by the last Government to which the Minister of State referred. This survey yielded the following conclusions: suitable premises, 162 or 18.9 per cent; suitable with minor modifications, 181 or 21.1 per cent; suitable with medium modifications, 193 or 22.6 per cent; suitable with major modifications, 184 or 21.5 per cent; unsuitable, 136 or 15.9 per cent. They were the figures of the total of 856. The survey clearly confirmed that there was a basis for criticism of standards. For this reason the last Government authorised the drafting of a Bill to provide for standards of veterinary control and hygiene at local slaughtering premises catering solely for the home market on a par with those already existing at export meat plants.

The heads of the Bill were duly prepared and approved and I am now glad that at this stage the present Government have brought the Bill before the House for approval. I am also glad that the responsibility lies with my constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Walsh. This enforces my confidence that on this issue at least the matter will be brought to be a sensible conclusion on a coherent and planned basis, as opposed to the muddle that has characterised many of the other ministerial decisions, or more correctly indecisions, emanating from Agriculture House. However, discussion on those can wait for another day.

To return to the Bill, apart from the slaughterhouses, it is important that the Bill should cover knackeries. The survey [1834] to which I referred covered 112 of these. Most of them were found to be small and, in many cases, old and ill-equipped. Accordingly, it is right and proper that the Bill should provide control over domestic slaughterings for non-human consumption as, at present, little or no supervision takes place at those 112 knackeries. Indeed, among concerns expressed about their operations are allegations that some of these premises are supplying meat for human consumption. Furthermore, almost a quarter of them are reported to constitute a hazard to either public or animal health.

Clearly, the present situation is entirely unsatisfactory. Antiquated laws dating back to 1847 contribute to this situation, as do the discretionary powers they give to the sanitary authorities to administer them. Some local authorities have not even adopted meat inspection by-laws and licensing of premises is lax in quite a number of areas with only two-thirds of existing slaughterhouses so licensed. Thus, varying standards apply to the trade throughout the country and the penalties for breaches of the existing legislation are totally out of date. I think the Minister of State referred to a figure of £5: it is quite clear that in the context of presentday commerce that is not a deterrent to anybody who is operating outside the law, or wants to do so.

Quite clearly, this Bill deserves the full support of the House, but there are a number of points arising thereunder to which I want to refer and which I want to put before the Minister for consideration. The first concerns what appears to be a duplication of control in that the licensing of premises is to be carried out by the Minister whereas the veterinary control of the premises and the charging and collection of inspection fees are to be carried out by the major local authorities. I accept that there is a facility in the Bill to enable the Minister to delegate licensing to local authorities, but I question whether this duplication arrangement is wise. It seems that local authorities are to be the main implementing bodies and in that situation is this duplication of responsibility sensible? We [1835] are now very much in an era in which the efficient use of all public service staff should be at a premium and that puts the onus on somebody proposing what is, in effect, a duplicate system to fully justify the need for same.

The Minister touched on this when he spoke of the lack of proper and uniform standards being partly due to diffusion of control and also to the fact that outside the major centres of population the veterinary inspectors are for the most part employed on a part time basis only. Of course, under the Bill the latter part is to be changed and we are now going to have a series of full time veterinary inspectors throughout the country, employed by the local authorities. That removes any argument that one might raise with regard to part time veterinary inspectors.

Then we come to the other question, diffusion of control. Rather than having a battalion of Department vets visiting premises drawing, presumably, substantial travelling expenses and subsistence allowances while so doing and, at the same time, having local authority veterinary officers going in there on a daily or, if not, a weekly basis would it not be wiser to establish the standards and if necessary call together for an occasional meeting the local authority veterinary officers and allow the licensing to be done on foot of their inspections? I am not making a huge point about it, but it seems that at a time when, from the point of view of the public finances, we should be watching every shilling there certainly is a case to be met when any question of duplication arises in the administrative arrangements. I am asking the Minister to examine that. Also, apart from the cost, surely there is the question of effectiveness. The veterinary officer from the local authority, or one of his team, will be in regular contact with the premises in question. Surely that is the officer who would be far more capable of giving a decision on the question of the granting or continuation of licences or permits?

The second major point concerns current policies on granting of State aid to [1836] the meat industry on the home market. The IDA provide grants for undertakings which manufacture products for sale on export markets or for sectors of the Irish market which are subject to significant international competition. It is, however, a fact that grant-aided companies are competing on the home market. Fees will be payable at all abattoirs at the same level as those applicable at export plants and, to a degree, justification for this Bill presented by the Minister is that the playing pitch is being levelled from that point of view. Fair enough, I accept that point. However, if there is to be an equalisation of arrangements in regard to fees, surely that strengthens the case for the provision of grant-aid towards the improvement of abattoirs solely supplying the domestic market? Again, this is not just any old plea for more money. There are certain funds available for the improvement of meat slaughtering facilities. These at present are concentrated on those supplying the export market. There is justification there; one can see that. However, here there certainly is, to use a current vogue phrase, a prima facie case for extending that grant aid to abattoirs that are solely concentrating on the home market.

A very good case is made for this in the Master Butcher of November 1987. My comments at this stage relate to an article by the President of the Master Butchers' Federation, Mr. Eugene Kearns. He brings up a number of points which at the very minimum need to be dealt with and replied to. He raises a very reasonable case along the lines that I am making. He points out in this article that the retail butchering trade provides employment for 6,000 people. He says this is done without any fuss, without any major announcements of factory expansions providing new jobs. That is a fair enough point. He goes on to say that he does not seek to malign the export meat plants or begrudge them grant aid. He refers to the EC having a market of 310 million people and as far as the Irish Meat Butchers' Federation are concerned they applaud the meat factories for going out and getting a better share of that market.

[1837] In relation to the question of grant aid, he says their position is quite clear. They do not mind competition provided it is fair competition. He says that when others get grant aid and use that money to deprive them of their market share, they must ask, is that fair? He answers the question himself by saying no. He goes on:

If we have to compete with “export” meat factories leaking very large volumes of meat onto the home market then, from our viewpoint, the pitch is not level, the referee is not impartial and the goal posts are being moved. All we want on the home market is the same market opportunity for all.

I rest the case on that point. It is made very adequately by the President of the Master Butchers' Federation. I would ask the Minister to deal with those points in his reply. I should add, in the light of figures that are produced in the survey that clearly there will have to be a fair amount of expenditure on slaughtering premises around the country and that again highlights the need for some form of support to ensure that that expenditure is incurred as quickly as possible so that the job is done as quickly as possible.

The third major point concerns standards which will be required under the Bill. I cannot understand the reluctance to specify these standards. There is concern in some quarters that impossible standards may be set. The Minister is a very reasonable man but it is all very well for him to reiterate, as I expect he will, that the standards will be reasonable and realistic and that they should be attainable by the majority of butchers. I could write the Minister's reply to this point but a question does remain. Why not spell out the details at this stage? It is very clear that the standards should not solely be related to structures. Work practices, hygiene, supervision and so on will have to be included. The standards should be spelled out now. It would be fairer to everybody if that were done and it would [1838] remove a certain degree of concern in the trade.

Another point which causes concern and which deserves to be raised here relates to the health mark which would be applied to meat by a veterinary inspector under section 40. Regulations are to be made under this section but it is important that the details be clarified at this stage. A number of practical questions arise here and I am very interested in hearing the answers to them. How many stamps are to be applied to the carcase which has been cut into sections? I am told that a relatively small lamb carcase could be cut into 24 different sections. In fact, I was given an outline of all the various parts and told their technical names. I will not go into such detail but I think the Minister will get the point I am aiming at.

Is a mark to be applied to each section? If we take the section from which we get our chops is a health mark to be put on each chop? That is the kind of practical issue which should be clarified. Another sensible point which should be raised here and which was made to me by someone involved in the trade is that the mark in certain circumstances could be unsightly. This raises the question as to whether there is a case for using an ultra-violet stamp which would not be visible to the naked eye. In the old days when people attended a premises in large numbers — I have gone a bit beyond my dancing days now — they used to get a pass out but I gather that nowadays a stamp is put on the back of a person's hand which is not visible to the naked eye but which does show up under an ultra-violet light. As there is this concern about unsightly visible marks on meat is there not a case for using something similar to this ultra-violet light? I think the Minister knows enough about it to take the point I am making and perhaps when he is replying he will deal with it.

The veterinary officers produced a report in 1984 and I take it that the Minister is aware of the various recommendations they made under the heading “Supervision of the home market meat trade”. The Bill covers a number of the [1839] recommendations contained in that report but it is worth noting that the veterinary officers felt it was important that a system of grant aid should be introduced to encourage the building and reconstruction of slaughter houses. This further reinforces the point made by the President of the Master Butchers' Federation.

I was also interested in the reference to the system for the retrieval of information and I would like some more information on this from the Minister. The veterinary officers felt that this would be very useful and would provide for more effective control in the animal health area, including tuberculosis in cattle. The Minister is aware of my interest on that point. Returns will have to be made by the local authorities but one of the problems, if I may take bovine TB as an example, is that there is a mass of information available while there is no proper procedure for analysing the information and statistics and for drawing the appropriate conclusions from them. Again, another practical question arises. Is the assembly of this information to be on a modern basis or is there just to be heaps and heaps of paper, laboriously hand written and then carefully filed away to gather dust for decades to come? I would like to see this system used effectively and I believe it can only be used effectively if it is computerised. If it were computerised it would be relatively easy to analyse the information.

The other points raised in the veterinary officers' report have been touched on either in the Bill or by the Minister. They also raised the issue of a detailed directive covering the correct handling of slaughtered animals, slaughtering technique etc. and they suggested that compliance with the guidelines should be a condition of suitability for renewal of a licence. That goes back to the earlier point I made in regard to standards and the sooner we have them the better.

By coincidence I received a letter this morning from a young lady who is studying to become an environmental health [1840] officer. While making it clear, that, like everybody else, she welcomed the Bill she raised the question of whether there should be a role for environmental health officers in the implementation of the Bill. She thought there was a serious discrepancy in that no reference was made to this question. It is a fair point from someone who engages in such study and to be consistent, having raised the question earlier of duplication as between the Department and the local authority, I now find myself pressing for the establishment, from a statutory point of view, of separate offices but in the larger local authorities a role could be found for environmental health officers. Perhaps, they could be included among the staff of the veterinary officer in charge of inspections. I am not sure whether the Minister would agree with me on that point. A case has been made by this young lady and it seems that a solution might be found in that area.

The final point I wanted to raise with the Minister relates to the progress or lack of it since the survey was carried out a few years ago. I quoted statistics from that survey and I am very keen to know what progress has been made pending the introduction of the Bill. I am aware that the last Minister for Agriculture did issue instructions that the county managers in the various local authorities were to be given the overall details and in particular the details within their area. They were also asked to take whatever steps were necessary to ensure an improvement.

Finally, they were asked to furnish the Department with reports on progress on this matter. Therefore, pending the introduction of the legislation the previous Government were quite concerned that that survey would seek to have improvements carried out as quickly as possible. I hope that the progress reports that were sought at the time were not lost or stacked away in files and not used as I feel the retrievable information under the present Bill will be unless it is computerised. Will the Minister confirm that progress has been made in the meantime and give a outline of the level of that progress? Have the county managers in [1841] the various local authorities reacted to pressure from the Minister and the Department following that survey? Have they taken steps to improve matters in the areas where the statistics were appalling? I can speak freely in that I am glad to say the survey shows that Cork had at the time of the survey a relatively good record; it was not perfect, but some other counties were in need of a major shakeup. In this reply, will the Minister let us know what kind of progress has been made to date?

The Fine Gael Party welcome this Bill. We are glad it is at this Stage before the House. I have listed a number of points which the Minister might deal with. Deputy Durkan, who has a major interest in this area, has some important points to raise with the Minister. However, the Minister can take it that he will receive co-operation from this side of the House in having this Bill put through in a reasonable way, subject to clarification of the points raised and perhaps a few points on Committee Stage. I hope this legislation will be in place very soon.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The preparatory work for this Bill was undertaken by the previous Administration and its presentation before the House this evening is very welcome. Nobody in the House can dispute that this type of legislation is well overdue. To date abattoirs and knackeries operate under a variety of legislative and regulatory controls many of which date back to the 19th century. Needless to say, many abattoirs were unhygienic, insanitary and in need of supervision by officials and inspectors. Conditions in these premises contrast with those in premises and factories which slaughter meat for export. The export market has strict regulations with regard to slaughtering techniques, ante and post-slaughtering examination of animals, grading and so on. EC regulations are to be imposed to ensure that consumers overseas are guaranteed the best possible products in the Irish market. I am not criticising this approach. This is the way we should be working but it is somewhat ironic that we go to great lengths to [1842] ensure that consumers abroad are catered for while we adopt an ad hoc approach to the community and the consumer at home. This Bill proposes to change all that. It is an attempt to put an end to those double standards and I hope it will do so.

However, I have some reservations about aspects of the implementation of the legislation and the impending regulations. The Minister on Second Stage in the Seanad outlined the statistical background of the area concerned. He pointed out that there are currently 854 abattoirs in operation and together these premises handle an annual slaughtering throughput of 230,000 cattle, 790,000 sheep and 320,000 pigs. For the most part the premises are hygienic and working conditions are sanitary, but almost every Senator who participated in the debate acknowledged that there are a significant number of insanitary premises, and those are the concern of the legislation. At present, these abattoirs are served by only 24 full-time veterinary inspectors and the rest of the staff are part-time. The Bill before the House seeks to improve this position by providing that every county area will engage one full-time inspector with back-up ancillary staff. Where two adjoining counties cover a reasonable area there may be a joint operation with a full-time inspector servicing abattoirs in both counties. All staff will be employed under local authorities.

The proposal in the Bill to engage full-time staff under local authorities is welcome and an enormous improvement on the current ad hoc system, but I have doubts as to whether this can be done effectively. Finance may not be made available to ensure that individual local authorities will be able to employ full-time staff on an ongoing basis. The present climate of staff cutbacks in the public service may affect the implementation of the provisions of the Bill thereby making it inoperable. It is important that the staff envisaged under this legislation be at least provided.

I raise this point because we are aware of the financial crisis in local authorities [1843] which is not improving; it appears to get worse with every new development. The figures made available to me recently by my county manager indicate that 203 principal statutes lay a financial burden on local authorities and 61 other statutes affect them financially also. This Bill is another such measure. The provisions in the Bill will place another financial burden on local authorities. I am opposed to the method of funding. It is a system of taxation at the point of delivery of services that seems to be used more and more throughout our financial system. It is replacing taxation on income and other systems of equitable taxation. It must be the most regressive form of taxation that could be devised. It has no reference to ability to pay the tax or use of the service and usually will end up being passed directly to the consumer and not paid by the person who is getting the service.

The Bill provides for a measure of finance to the local authority in the form of licence fees slaughtering charges etc., which will be maximised at £1.4 million in the current year. Out of this amount it is proposed to engage 27 full time inspectors to serve the counties and five inspectors to serve the county boroughs. There is to be an increase in part time and back-up staff if the legislation and regulations are to be effective. I would like some assurance from the Minister that he is satisfied this funding is adequate, and if not that the Government will not attempt to put further pressure on the local authorities or back on the farmers in the form of further charges. At a time of financial stringency and in this climate of cuts Members have legitimate concerns about any further burden on local authorities.

Regarding finance, I should like to make another point which is quite relevant to my earlier remarks about double standards. I note that the Bill proposes to give abattoirs and knackeries a transitional period in which they must bring their operations up to the required standard. However, there is no mention of fund aid for any of the going concerns. A number of slaughtering factories which supply the export market are grant-aided [1844] by the IDA. Perhaps the Minister will explain the difference in approach and tell us whether his Department have undertaken research on the resources of the abattoirs and the small family butchers and if it is reasonably expected that the majority of them can comply with the new legislation. I am particularly concerned about jobs in the home industry. If jobs are to be lost as a result of the new legislation the Minister should seek financial help for some of the concerns. In addition it is important that any new legislation should not drive even more operators under ground. We are aware that there is already an unacceptable level of meat products on the Irish market which come from unlicensed knackeries and abattoirs. It is important that the legislation should prohibit this and not serve to make matters worse.

Since the primary purpose of this legislation is to protect the Irish consumer, it must ensure that any meat that reaches the table is fit for human consumption. Regrettably, that has not been the situation to date. Meat which is unfit for consumption has been off-loaded on Irish consumers, particularly those on low incomes who have been conned into buying parcels of meat at reduced rates from salespersons around the country. These merchants sell at low prices to retailers who are willing to pass on the meat to consumers or alternatively they visit large housing estates where the poor are glad to get a parcel of meat at such low prices. These people depend on the law and the vigilance of inspectors to protect them and they buy these products on trust. It is up to us as legislators to ensure that this legislation does what it is proposed to do and does not fail because of insufficient funding or insufficient staff to implement its proposals.

I am not satisfied that the Bill goes far enough to protect the consumer in this regard. For example, the Bill indicates that all animals must be inspected before and after slaughtering. If conditions have been approved, the meat will receive a health stamp but the Bill does not go into detail as to what part of the carcase will be stamped. What of the rest of the carcase? [1845] Surely the Bill is relying far to heavily on the goodwill of the retail outlet. There is really no way of guaranteeing even after the passage of this legislation that what we purchase as beefburgers, hamburgers, sausages and so on is meat which has been given a health stamp. The only person who is certain of the origin of the product is the retailer and the customer is dependent on his or her goodwill. I would remind the House that it is largely because the abattoirs and the retail outlets cannot be trusted to think of the customer first that this legislation is before us and it is up to us to ensure in this Bill that no stone is left unturned when it comes to the health of the home consumer.

I should like to see provision in the Bill dealing with control at the point of sale and I would ask the Minister to address himself to that area. There is a basic flaw between the point where the carcase is examined after slaughter and the point of sale to the consumer. Some method must be devised whereby inspection can take place at the point of sale to ensure that only meats that have been the subject of examination and certification are being sold in butchers' outlets. There was some discussion on this point in the Seanad. The Minister said he was in touch with the Department of Health and that legislation was pending to ensure that the consumer would be protected at the point of purchase. The Minister promised this legislation within a few months and I should appreciate an indication of progress in the matter.

I am equally concerned about the slaughter of animals on private farms. I take the Minister's point that there will be accidents on farms and animals will have to be put down, especially if they are in pain, but I am not satisfied that the Bill gives sufficient protection to the consumer. If legislation makes provision for exceptions, there is very little to stop dishonourable farmers or butchers killing more than one animal under the guise of an accident or indeed causing an accident to ensure that they can legally slaughter the animals in the farmyard. I should like more control in the form of veterinary [1846] inspectors having to report on all accidents where they occur. This would involve more work for the inspectors and possibly more staff, but if the intention of the Bill is to ensure good standards for the business and the public, we must ensure that there are no loopholes.

In attempting to eliminate some of the worst excesses and abuses the Bill should ensure uniformity in regulations, ante-and post-mortem examination of animals, supervision of slaughtering, inspection of abattoirs and knackeries, enforcement of hygiene, pollution control, health marking of meat and inspection of licences. These are certainly mammoth tasks and we should be under no illusion about the level of funding and staffing required to do the job properly.

I welcome the Bill, which is long overdue. My party will be supporting it but I am anxious to hear the Minister's response to the points I have raised. If I am not satisfied with the response I will table amendments at a later stage.

Mr. T. Kitt: Information on Tom Kitt  Zoom on Tom Kitt  Mar is eol duit, is é inniu Lá na Gaeilge agus mar sin ba mhaith liom, as Gaeilge, fáilte a chur roimh an mBille seo.

I should like at the outset to pay tribute to Deputy Joe Walsh for his contribution in his capacity as Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food. I have always maintained the importance of having such a ministry and Deputy Walsh has made a major contribution to date. Not alone does he know his brief but he also knows his beef.

The Government have stated that one of their main objectives is to make Ireland a major producer of pure food. The Minister and the junior Minister have been successfully promoting this policy since taking office. The introduction of this Bill is a major element of this strategy. One of the first questions I placed before this Dáil on my election as a Deputy related to the subject matter of a “Today Tonight” programme on RTE dealing with the illegal slaughtering of cattle and the illegal sale of meat. No [1847] doubt many Members recall that programme. The Minister for Health indicated in response that he had made a closure order under the food hygiene regulations in respect of the premises featured prominently in that programme. I hope that as a result of this Bill we will never see a repeat of this scandalous practice of illegal slaughtering of cattle and illegal sale of meat. I commend RTE on the investigative journalism which led to that and many other programmes. They have a major role to play in this area.

I welcome the Bill for several reasons but primarily because it will introduce higher standards and a centralised, uniform system for the slaughter of cattle and the sale of meat. Up to now there have been different standards for our meat exports than those applied to meat sold on the domestic market. The people of Ireland deserve and should have by right the same standards applying to the meats they consume as the standards that are applied to the meat we export. It is deplorable, indeed, insulting, to the people of Ireland that the law has allowed double standards exist for so long. What we have been saying is that for the home market anything will do and for that reason I am delighted that we have finally faced up to this problem.

With the passage of the Bill there is no doubt that there will be an improvement in overall health standards, particularly on the domestic scene. Apart from the obvious need to protect the home consumer Ireland cannot be truly described as a quality food producer unless we demand high standards of cleanliness and hygiene in our abattoirs. This will indirectly benefit our exports. Our image as a pure food producer will be enhanced and there will be an end to the double standards. Quite frankly, the legislation is long overdue.

It is not my intention to cast a shadow over an industry that has in the main maintained very high standards. In a consumer orientated market low standards are no longer tolerated, and rightly so. The Bill is in the interests of those working legally in the industry. It will improve [1848] their position and enable the authorities to weed out illegal back street operators who I understand have quite a hold on the market at present. The Bill represents a strong deterrent by proposing stricter fines and penalties. The Minister will have power to regulate them accordingly and that should go a long way towards eliminating further problems.

Apart from the increase in fines and penalties there is a requirement to keep records. Section 59 obliges licence holders to keep records in regard to a number of matters ranging from the place where the animal is bought to identifying the owner. I welcome the fact that the Minister will have leeway to include other areas of record keeping. Violators will be subject to prosecution and I hope that acts as a deterrent to illegal activities. Licence issuing powers will be given to the Minister for a number of reasons. The Bill will repeal older Acts pertaining to abattoirs and will update old laws with a new national central approach to abattoirs. It is only fitting that the Minister should be involved at this stage.

Up to now the issuing of some licences by sanitary authorities has been less than satisfactory. The Bill will give the Minister power to return at the appropriate time the licensing powers to those authorities. In other words, the Minister will not be taking on that power permanently. He will establish the new system, get the required standards in place, monitor their operation and then re-involve local authorities. That is the correct approach and it shows how concerned the Government are about long term improvement of standards. I have been assured also that the lax controls that exist at present will be tightened up. There has been an absence of full time inspection officers at local authority level for many years. There are 32 local authorities but only 24 full time officers who operate in only nine areas. The Bill will clear up that anomaly by assigning a full time officer to each local authority. At a time of cutbacks the Government are employing more inspectors and that is an indication of their commitment to improving standards. It is proposed that each full time officer [1849] should have a number of part time officials to assist in covering all bases. Those officers will have the power to shut down or halt any slaughtering of food preparation in any abattoir that constitutes a serious health hazard. The owner who refuses to obey an order will be guilty of an offence. The powers, and the number of inspectors, will be increased by the Bill and they alone are good enough reasons to support it.

Several trade associations have come out in support of the measure. The Irish Domestic Meat Association, the Irish Master Butchers Federation and the Irish Meat Wholesalers Association have come out in support of the Bill. They are pleased that the Bill will bring order to domestic trade and improve standards. The provisions are important and we should endeavour to place them on the Statute Book as soon as possible. As a matter of urgency we should update our old laws that have shown themselves to be too lax and without proper structure or form.

The meat and food industry is under threat from meat substitutes, food additives and the worrying process of irradiation which, in effect, can artificially prolong the shelf life of meat. In such a climate the meat industry and the Government, must work vigorously to establish fresh ground rules on the preparation of the meat and in rooting out illegal traders who can seriously damage our image at home and abroad.

I should like to refer to a survey of slaughter houses carried out by the Department of Agriculture in 1982. That survey, which was referred to by the Minister, painted a very disturbing picture. Of 856 slaughter houses surveyed 136 were found to be unsuitable; 184 required major modifications; 193 required medium modifications and 181 required minor modifications. It appears that in 1982 16 per cent of our slaughter houses were regarded as unsuitable and upwards of another 21 per cent would require major modifications if they were to be brought up to acceptable standards. In other words, 37 per cent of the slaughter houses in Ireland in 1982 were more [1850] or less unsuitable. The inherent human and health hazards resulting from that are obvious. One must wonder how we survived as a race under such conditions. It is said that the Irish have a habit of over cooking their food but perhaps this practice of cooking meat, originating from having unsuitable slaughter houses, has in the past saved the lives of Irish consumers.

I do not wish to sound alarmist but it is important that I should give details of that official survey. At the time in ten counties none of the slaughter houses was found to be suitable. The presence of a full time veterinary inspector in a county had an obvious positive effect on standards of meat production. For example, that 1982 survey shows that out of 84 slaughter houses in Mayo none was found to be suitable but there was no full time veterinary inspector in that county. In Kerry where there was a full time veterinary inspector 30 of the 49 slaughter houses surveyed were found to be suitable. Those figures speak for themselves. We should ensure that we do not have a repetition of that.

Under the Bill ante and post mortem inspections will take place in our slaughter houses. That is crucial if we are to ensure high standards. An animal must be rested and well treated before slaughtering, but, unfortunately, that is not always the case here. French and German housewives demand an ante mortem inspection and we should do likewise. I have no doubt that Irish consumers will be reassured when they read in this legislation that meat being sold on the home market will be prepared under hygenic conditions, will be fresh and fit for human consumption. The 1982 survey I referred to reflected primitive and substandard conditions. I have no doubt that conditions and standards since then have improved and I am convinced that the legislation before us will lead to the highest possible standards and that will be in the interests of the meat industry and consumers alike.

Mr. McCoy: Information on John S. McCoy  Zoom on John S. McCoy  Any Bill which sets out to improve the practice and operation of [1851] food or meat processing in general is to be welcomed. My comments on the Bill will be constructive and they will be based on a lifetime working in the meat business. I agree with virtually everything Deputy Kitt has said but I should like to remind him that the view is not always held that one should overcook meat to kill off bugs. I should like to remind the Deputy of the practice of the gentry of hanging up a pheasant by the neck and leaving it until the body fell off before eating it.

I have read the Bill and the Explanatory Memorandum. It is difficult to find fault with the thrust of the Bill but there are a few areas where there could be a rethink. I propose to outline those areas as I see them. The Progressive Democrats subscribe to a wholesome food industry, a climate for wholesome food based on natural production methods because to do otherwise would be an error for our food industry. I do not want to go back over ground covered by Deputy Kitt but it is true that in 1982 of the 850 premises surveyed by the veterinary inspectors only 19 per cent were found to be suitable, about 66 per cent were found to be capable of improvement and 16 per cent were found to be totally unsuitable. At the same time there were a number of local authorities which had not implemented the by-laws in relation to the inspection of such premises. That is a frightening admission in this day and age when there is such an emphasis on quality products. I am sure the thrust and the spirit of this Bill will address such anomalies and put matters to right.

There has been justifiable public doubt about the quality of many premises, some of which not alone were not inspected by local authorities but were unknown to the local authorities. The Minister proposes to license these premises using the county councils to administer the operation of veterinary control. There must have been an opportunity here to bring together the export plants and the local abattoirs under the one licensing authority and to have no duplication whatsoever. In most local authority areas there are abattoirs [1852] or boning halls which are being operated at a very high level of hygiene under the direct control, by way of inspection, of the Department of Agriculture and Food. The Minister now proposes to put the abattoirs killing for home consumption on a different footing. He is to give this control to local authorities.

At a time when we are seeking to take bureaucracy out of the system, I would have thought this an opportunity to put the entire meat operation under the one standard, which the Minister is proposing, and under one authority, which I would like to see. I make this suggestion with the best of intentions. The Minister may view what I am saying differently but if we are talking about wholesomeness and producing goods of a highest quality we cannot have a separation of standards or a separation of the implementation of those standards. If meat plants killing for export operate in the local authority and under the direct veterinary control of the Department of Agriculture, and if local abattoirs operate under the direction of local authorities, there will be a certain amount of duplication and a certain divergence of standards.

The Minister proposes to bring knackeries under his control by means of licence and regular inspections. Many speakers this evening expressed reservations about the operations of knackeries and the cowboy slaughtering plants which may pass as knackeries. There is a disturbing feeling among certain sections of the trade. The master butchers and many of those in the meat trade say that their legitimate interests are in no way served by the loose licence under which many of these knackeries seem to operate. It is not enough to say they will be inspected regularly, that they will have to apply for a licence every year and that they will have to have premises which meet certain structural and hygienic conditions. Much more control is required over their day-to-day operations. They should be made say where they are getting their raw materials for the goods they process — be they for greyhounds, bone meat plants and so on. I should like to [1853] see them having a stamp of their own with their licence number. I would like a different licence number given to each knackery which would be an integral part of their stamp and the documentation which would cover the movement of the output of such plants.

I do not believe it is sufficient to say there would be regular inspections of such plants because we all know that on the day the inspector is coming everything will be in order. There must be more absolute control over these places if for nothing else than to assuage the fears of consumer organisations that there is nothing irregular about the wholesomeness of the products which they are offering, especially on the fresh meat counters on most of our supermarkets.

To finance the additional local authority staff needed to implement the new veterinary controls the Minister is proposing, the Bill proposes the introduction of veterinary inspectors and fees. Deputy Stagg alluded to this. While we believe there must be a self-financing aspect to this suggestion and self-regulation within the industry, nevertheless there is a layer of cost being introduced which ultimately will be met by the consumers. Part of these fees — £3.25 per bovine, 75p per pig and 55p per sheep — will pay for back-up services. I want to ask the Minister the following questions: do we not already have these back-up services in place in the disease eradication laboratories of the bovine tuberculosis section of the Department? Must we not also have a back-up service already in place for the EC plants which are licensed and spread widely throughout the country? Are we looking for a duplication of back-up services for abattoirs in terms of the inspection authority and the same in terms of having a repetition of the EC plants?

I should also like to refer to Part II (2) of the Bill which sets out the conditions which an applicant must satisfy before an abattoir licence shall be granted or renewed. It also provides that the Minister shall consult with the relevant local authorities before granting or renewing the licence. It provides that the licence [1854] may limit the class and number of animals which may be slaughtered in the abattoir to which it relates. A five year transition period is allowed for in transferring from an unsuitable premises to one which is fully up to EC standards. In making the local authority the controlling body for abattoirs, will improvements be made? Obviously planning by-laws will have to be complied with and will also be the subject of the same authority controlling the veterinary inspection of such premises. While I have no objection to the thrust of the suggestion, control of effluent and the discharges which are now allowed into municipal and town sewerage schemes must also be considered.

In future abattoirs of a small and family type nature will find it very hard to comply with the present regulations in relation to a new application for a new operation. One cannot overstress that and if the law in relation to planning which would have to be involved in updating such an abattoir is to be followed to the letter, the necessary improvements in terms of effluent disposal as well as the structural position in relation to such abattoirs will be virtually impossible financially for a number of independent butchers to comply with. We are asking these people over a period of time to comply with regulations to which I fully subscribe and, as I said at the outset, my remarks are meant to be helpful to the Minister. We are asking people in the home trade to comply with high standards of hygiene, effluent disposal and all the other things involved in the EC Directive controlling the operation of such plants.

We are quite prepared to aid exporters very generously, by way of IDA and FEOGA grants, to achieve these standards but there is no reference in the Bill of grant aiding people to encourage them to update their premises, so that they operate at the same levels and standards to the satisfaction generally of the public and at the same time to have the same kind of help to which they are entitled if they are to produce a product of the quality demanded by the Bill.

Section 13 provides that an abattoir [1855] licence shall not be transferred. When the licence holder dies the licence shall continue in full force and effect for the benefit of the licence holder's personal representative or, as the case may be, his spouse or any other member of his family, for the period of two months. This means that the licence is not vested in the premises where a person may have spent an awful lot of money on improvements. It is vested in the ownership and it is like saying that the licence which attaches to a public house should only last for two months after the owner dies. Surely the licence should relate to the standard of the premises and to its operation rather than to the ownership? There is a slightly sinister overtone in this suggestion in that it may seek, by various methods, to limit over a period of time the number of small abattoirs in the ownership of private butchers. This would be a retrograde step and is against privatisation of businesses. It is also contrary to the Constitution whereby the ownership of property is sacred. It is hard to understand why the licence is to be vested in the owner of the abattoir and shall cease to be vested in him or his agents two months after he dies rather than in the premises which qualifies by way of its standards and operation. Perhaps there is an explanation.

Section 15 also states that where a licence has been obtained by fraud or misrepresentation or where there is any contravention of the Act or any regulation made thereunder and if the licence holder has not, within a reasonable time, complied with the requirements of the notice served under section 18 to cease operations on the grounds of public health, he may appeal to the Circuit Court within 21 days of the refusal or revocation of the abattoir licence. Subject to there being no danger to public health the premises may continue to be used as an abattoir until the appeal is mentioned in the Circuit Court. This must be considered against the background where a person has had five years to improve their premises to bring them up to the standards now required to provide a wholesome product and also in [1856] the interests of public health. After five years, if a person has made no effort to comply with the regulations as stated in the Bill, they can then go to the Circuit Court and, depending on delays, they can continue to operate. After five years, they should be closed and should then have to appeal to the Circuit Court for a licence to reopen. If this is not incorporated in the Bill, it will not be taken seriously in terms of the five years transition period.

Section 17 provides for a transitional period of five years during which the Minister may issue permits, in lieu of licences, for abattoirs which were in existence at the time of commencement of the Act and which are capable of being brought up to licensing standard. When he is replying would the Minister explain the position of the person with an abattoir deemed to be unsuitable who is prepared to proceed with the building of a new abattoir? If a person is prepared to continue in a building which is not up to the standard he will get every latitude to make improvements over five years and then he can appeal to the Circuit Court which may be adjourned and he may eventually win his case. A responsible person may be prepared to build a new abattoir but in undertaking that he will have no latitude, he will be open to the full rigours of the planning law. This does not encourage people to go down the right road. We should encourage those who now have abattoirs which are unsuitable to improve them by way of an aid package.

Section 19 empowers local authorities to provide public abattoirs. Is it the intention of this Bill to do away with privately owned abattoirs? Section 13 suggests that licences should expire with the death of the owner. This will force private abattoir operators out of business and people will have to use the abattoirs operated by the local authority. That was the situation years ago in my part of the country. People moved away from that situation because they could not afford the costs of operating such an abattoir. Family businesses found the overheads too [1857] expensive. If we are serious about trying to keep these people in business we should help them to control their own businesses.

Section 22 makes it an offence for a person to sell, offer or expose for sale for human consumption any part of an animal or meat which has been slaughtered in or which has originated in a knackery. We should have records of the comings and goings of such products. We should have a certificate of wholesomeness for meat coming from these plants. We should have records to show that meat came from licensed premises where there was veterinary inspection and to show that the product did not include any parts of animals which are being condemned. We should have records showing which plants are supplying pet food factories. It is important that the entire chain of events should be controlled so as to close off the loopholes that have been there for the sale of diseased and reactor animals and for obstructing the TB eradication schemes. There are loopholes in the operations of knackeries.

The veterinary control and hygiene section provides for the first fulltime appointment of a veterinary inspector to be made within six months. It is assumed that fees and levies will only commence when inspections are done and that fees will not commence with the passing of the Bill.

Section 36 requires each local authority to allocate a veterinary inspector to each abattoir. Currently there are as many as 60 abattoirs in some local authorities. Is it proposed to have an inspector for each abattoir? Some of these abattoirs have very low slaughterings and I cannot see how they can be self-financing in terms of providing a veterinary inspector for each abattoir. A local authority will also be required to make arrangements for the inspection of knackeries. That is a very loose arrangement. I am worried that the section dealing with knackeries is not decisive enough in terms of movement.

Sections 39 and 40 provide for the making of regulations by the Minister [1858] in relation to the ante and post-mortem examination of animals and meat, respectively, by a veterinary inspector, the marking and disposal of meat found to be unfit for human consumption, the health mark to be applied to meat found fit for human consumption, and the labelling requirements for meat being consigned in packages from abattoirs.

In relation to the health mark and the labelling requirements for consignments of meat, veterinary certificates of the inspecting vet should be available and boxes should be sealed with a veterinary seal such as that which is now in operation in the EC export plants. The box cannot be opened without breaking the seal and the contents are registered as coming from a licensed plant with the veterinary inspector's authority. Other speakers referred to dubious origins of meat for sausages, burgers and other such products. People who buy those products should be only able to buy them on the basis of veterinary certificates and certificates of origin.

In relation to the fees and in relation to amendments of sections 51 and 52 of the Bovine Diseases Levies Act, 1979, it now appears that the bovine TB eradication levy will now apply to all cattle slaughtered for human consumption in the Republic, that is, about 250,000 animals per year which would give an additional £1.625 million by way of additional funding from the farming community to the bovine disease eradication scheme. I do not see any allowance for this in the 1988 Estimates. It appears to me to be a type of secret funding. I should like to see the budget figure — which is lower by way of Exchequer contribution this year — being suitably amended. There is also accruing to CBF £250,000 based on a calculation of £1 per head. If one adds the levies, the registration of the premises, the registration licence, the inspection fee, the licence fee, the CBF contribution and the disease eradication inspection levy one will readily see that one is adding approximately £12 per animal to the purchase cost of all animals to be processed under the new regulations. I believe that is a cost which [1859] will have to be borne by the consumer. However, it would not constitute such a high cost if the proposals are properly implemented. I believe there is room for rationalisation of inspection. I cannot understand why all cannot be included under the one heading.

In section 61 there is provision for the making of regulations by the Minister covering siting, lay-out, accommodation and construction, water supply and sanitary facilities and equipment and applicances for premises which are, or are to be, used as abattoirs or knackeries. Local authorities will have to comply with the provisions of this section, they being the veterinary control authorities of such abattoirs in the future. Even though it will be the Department who will be the licensing authority initially the intention would be to transfer that power to local authorities in the future.

I must reiterate what I said in terms of the cost involved for some abattoirs to meet the standards required and which, in respect of those involved in the export trade, have been funded by way of EC and FEOGA grants. Perhaps the Minister would say whether there is provision within the terms of FEOGA grants for the upgrading of local abattoirs.

It is disconcerting to note that at present there is no control of the certification of meat as being free of hormones and antibiotics. That is alarming. I would hope there would be no halfway house in terms of consumer demands that meat be free of hormones and antibiotics. There is no such provision in the Bill. This factor is uppermost in the minds of most housewives when buying meat today. If the provisions of the Bill propose to arrest the fall in red meat consumption those are among the problems that must be seen to be tackled. I would ask the Minister to consider those matters, perhaps introducing a number of amendments to incorporate the points I have made.

I believe that the provisions of the Bill are in the best interests of wholesome food for consumption here but there are a number of matters that could be rectified. [1860] I have pointed them out to the Minister in an objective fashion. I hope he can see his way to introducing amendments along those lines.

Mr. Sherlock rose.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  I am calling Deputy Leonard. I think I can anticipate what Deputy Sherlock is going to say — that ordinarily, had the debate followed the normal Second Stage sequence, Deputy Sherlock might have been called earlier but in respect of what has happened to date I would ask him to be patient with me. I can assure him that, when Deputy Leonard — who normally does not take too much time to make good points— has finished, I will call on Deputy Sherlock.

Mr. Sherlock: Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock  A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, there have been spokespersons representing every other party in the House to date, including two from the Government side, the Minister and another spokesperson. Are you saying to me — my having sat here for two hours — I must await a third Government spokesperson? Surely I am entitled to speak at this point. My contribution will be very short; I can assure you of that. Surely I am entitled to make my contribution now having sat here for so long.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  As I indicated to the Deputy already, ordinarily that would happen. It was because of that I anticipated, when Deputy Sherlock rose, that he was going to make the point he did. In the circumstances in which I find myself now, in which the debate must go from side to side——

Mr. Sherlock: Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock  With due respect to you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, may I ask if it has been decided between the Whips of the various parties to exclude me from this debate, those Whips who have taken decisions with regard to arrangements for speakers?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  I think the Deputy may take it that the respective [1861] Whips know him so well not to venture to indulge in any arrangement that would exclude him.

Mr. Sherlock: Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock  Why then am I being excluded and not allowed to make a short submission on what I deem to be an important Bill which I welcome?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  I do not know how lengthy a contribution Deputy Leonard may make.

Mr. J. Leonard: Information on James Leonard  Zoom on James Leonard  I will be fairly short anyway.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  Deputy Leonard assures the House that his contribution will be very short after which I will be happy to call Deputy Sherlock.

Mr. Leonard: Information on James Leonard  Zoom on James Leonard  Like other Deputies, I welcome this Bill. It is particularly welcome by those of us who have been pressing for years to have this type of licensing and supervision introduced. It is necessary and long overdue. The provisions of the Bill are particularly essential to ensure that the highest possible quality obtains in relation to pork and other meats. It is essential also that there be proper supervision of standards prevailing at abattoirs and knackeries. The fact that some pork plants did not have to pay veterinary fees left others in a less competitive position. The delay in introducing this Bill has caused serious trading problems for some pig slaughtering plants who had to compete on the home market with others who did not have to pay the appropriate fee. It is essential that we increase our pig production for export, something the Minister and Minister of State have made a commendable effort to ensure in recent months. Over the years there were not proper facilities at our slaughtering plants to enable our producers complete on the United States market. That fact has now been generally recognised. Not alone is this Bill being introduced but our producers are recommending that substantial grant aid be made available to them by way of the [1862] IDA and FEOGA assistance to ensure that they can compete on those markets.

In Monaghan two such plants are closed at present. In this respect I might quote from a circular issued by Samuel Graham Limited of Coolshannagh, Monaghan, front runners in the exportation of pigmeat. At one stage they exported about 90 per cent of their kill. That circular which was sent to public representatives states:

A company operating within our catchment area slaughtering 3,500 pigs per week and not paying a veterinary fee the net result of this is that this company is approximately... £300,000 per year better off.

That factory was closed down and 100 of the best butchers in the Twenty-six Counties are on the dole. In that circular it is claimed there is poor organisation as far as the pigmeat market in that area is concerned. Two companies, Samuel Graham Limited and Irish Pigmeat Exports Limited, an associated company, were situated in Monaghan town and they slaughtered roughly 4,000 pigs per week. Prior to the merging of Hanleys, Castlebar and Claremorris, the Castlebar Bacon Company had a slaughtering plant in Monaghan where well in excess of 100,000 pigs per year or over 2,000 pigs per week were slaughtered. When those companies merged the Castlebar Bacon Company in Monaghan town was closed down as was Samuel Graham Limited. Many people have made strenuous efforts to try to get those companies operating again but we are finding it very difficult.

A few years ago County Monaghan was the third highest producer of pigs. When new slaughtering plants are being set up they should be set up in areas where there is the highest pig production. It is important that the pigs are reared close to the slaughtering plants. The pig industry in Monaghan is in a bad state at present and that has stemmed partly from an unfair system where some people paid veterinary fees and some did not.

The Minister in his speech said that currently 30 per cent of pigs slaughtered [1863] are exported and the bulk of the kill, therefore, is chasing a domestic market in which significant inroads have been made by local pork butchers in the past five years. He said that pig slaughterings by pork butchers have increased by 70 per cent during this period. That gives an indication of the real problems of licensed premises in competing for pigs. They had to pay slaughtering fees and they had to abide by the rigid hygiene regulations, unlike other operators. The Minister went on to say that the licensed bacon plants are thus being placed at a competitive disadvantaged, vis-á-vis their unlicensed competitors owing to the cost of observing stringent hygiene standards and the payment of veterinary inspection fees. That type of competition existed in an area which provided many much needed jobs.

Recently we heard that £160 million was provided to develop the pig industry. Broilers and turkeys are produced in my area and value added products are processed from poultry and turkey meat. Pork has not been developed in the same way. Many people say it is an ideal base for foods which could compete with imported foods.

One of my criticisms of the IDA, and I raised this matter in my discussions with them regarding the closure of plants, is that they are based in Dublin. Poultry is a specialised line of production and matters concerning it are dealt with from Dublin rather than from a regional office. A regional manager would be in a better position to negotiate with potential takers of factories and would know the people in a particular area. As I have said, slaughtering plants should be situated where there is most pig production. I am concerned about large operators having too much of a grip on the market. We have proved we should not let the multiple stores and the slaughtering plants get too big.

We should not allow large multiples to operate at the expense of the tried and trusted plants that are facing difficulties which they could overcome if they got [1864] the assistance they deserve from the Government agencies and the Department. As a public representative I have fought this battle for years and I will continue to do so. I have spent many years as a member of a small co-op. I have fears about large co-ops which have been developed over the years and about many other large structures which need much financing. At the end of the day areas such as mine will be the real sufferes by way of job losses.

The local authorities will also have a part to play in this market and it is important that they receive the necessary finance. Unless other local authorities receive more funding than the one of which I am a member, they will not be in a position to do much by way of providing veterinary supervisors and so on.

This is very necessary legislation. It is only part of the package which is required to put the pigmeat industry in a position where they can compete on the world market. We must remember we are weak in production in many areas. In this country our stance lies in our production, in our piggeries and our sow units. They are developed as well as, and in some cases better than, those in any other country in Europe but we have failed as far as hygiene slaughtering plants is concerned. The factory that I mentioned moved into the Japanese market very effectively. It is deplorable that now they may not even open again.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  The Chair thanks Deputy Leonard for his co-operation and now rewards Deputy Sherlock for his patience.

Mr. Sherlock: Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock  We welcome the Bill and support its general provisions. It is long overdue and it is regrettable that previous Governments did not move on the matter earlier. The fact is that while the vast majority of those involved in the meat business are decent and honest people, many butchers and meat traders have involved themselves in appalling practices which amounted to not just a defrauding of the general public but also constituted a threat to public health. As an agricultural country and major food [1865] exporter we have a vested interest in ensuring that all our food products, whether produced for export or for the home market, are of the highest possible standards and produced in accordance with the highest possible safety and hygiene standards. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. This Bill will go a long way to ensuring at least a major improvement in standards.

The poor standards in our meat industry have been highlighted time and time again in newspaper articles, on television programmes and in public statements by those in a position to know. For instance, in testimony to the Oireachtas Committee on Public Expenditure in 1986, Professor Collins of the UCD veterinary school pointed out that thousands of tons of beef rejected for export because of disease were being offered for sale to domestic consumers. He pointed out that only a small proportion of the 300,000 animals killed for the home market were given any inspection for disease. Mr. Peter Dargan of the Irish Veterinary Union said in an article in the Irish Independent of 4 December 1984 that some of the slaughter-houses would turn one's stomach; it would put one off meat to see the conditions cattle were killed in and he would be loath to eat meat from many of the abattoirs he visited. In the same article, Mr. Dargan said that meat of pet food standard was getting in the food chain in hospitals and other institutions and that buyers were unaware of what was going on.

The fact is that the standards in some of the abattoirs have been little better than those one would expect to find in a third world country. I suppose it is fair to say that some of the blame should rest with the consumers who have been prepared to accept standards that are second best and are reluctant to complain. If more people complained we would have better standards everywhere although, in fairness to the consumer, it must be said that most are unaware of how low the standards are and would be shocked if they found out.

One of the spin-off effects of the recession has been that more and more [1866] people, particularly the unemployed and others on social welfare, have had to buy meat at the lower end of the market when indeed they can afford to buy it at all. In these circumstances, it is vitally important that such consumers should be given the greatest protection possible both in terms of ensuring that they get good value for money and that what they buy is safe and hygienically prepared.

Another matter which requires attention, although it is not covered by this Bill, is the whole question of the use of parts of animals that most people would consider unacceptable as constituent meat products in pies et cetera. I understand that brains, feet, intestines and other parts of animals can be used as constituents in meat products and that with modern technology they can be dressed up to look like normal meat. This is at best a deception of the public and regulations should be introduced to ensure that it is stated clearly on the labels the products that are used.

Another area of major public concern which I hope the Bill will deal with is the whole question of the use by farmers of hormones and growth promoters. While steps have been taken to control these practices, it is common knowledge that these products can be illegally obtained, and that unscrupulous farmers are prepared to use them to try to make a quick buck irrespective of the effects they might have on the health of the people who buy meat. I hope that the veterinary surgeons involved in the inspection procedures under this Bill will be instructed to make a particular check for the illegal use of hormones and growth promoters and that every effort will be made to trace and prosecute those involved in the practice.

We have almost 850 local abattoirs serving a population of 3 million. In Britain they have found 1,200 abattoirs serving a population of around 57 million. The fact that only five or six local authorities have employed veterinary officers to inspect abattoirs speaks for itself. It is likely that the implementation of the Bill will lead to a major reduction in the number of smaller abattoirs and this is no bad thing. In the long term, larger [1867] modern abattoirs are in everybody's interest. These would be premises capable of coming up to export standard and should be able to receive export licences and qualify for FEOGA grants. Many of the smaller abattoirs are attached to butcher shops very often in cities on the main street and lead to major environmental pollution and health problems. It is not really acceptable, in this day and age, that abattoirs should be located at the back of shops. Many of them do not have suitable facilties for disposing of waste or blood.

There are a number of points arising from specific details in the Bill on which I would like to comment. Section 2 of the Bill seems to allow for the on-farm slaughtering of certain animals. I wonder would it not be better to totally discourage this activity. Permitting on-farm slaughter of animals provides the potential for abuse. In addition, the captive bolt pistol used in abattoirs for stunning animals prior to slaughter costs around £400. Not many farmers will have one of these; yet any other way of killing an animal will inflict severe pain and suffering.

I note that the definition of animal excludes both deer and rabbits. Deer farming is still in its infancy here but all the indications are that it is growing. Some deer are shot on farms but others are slaughtered in abattoirs. It seems to make sense that the premises in which they are slaughtered should come within the definition of abattoir as this would ensure proper hygiene standards, proper veterinary inspection et cetera. I believe that the first rabbit abattoir was recently opened in County Monaghan and I wonder again why deer and rabbits have been excluded from the provisions of the Bill. I thought that Deputy Leonard might refer to that and I was anxious to hear his speech before commenting.

Section 17 enables the Minister to issue a permit to an unsatisfactory premises to allow it to continue in operation. That permit can be used initially for five years and can then be extended. This seems an [1868] exceptionally long period. A shorter term of perhaps two years might be better.

Paragraph (c) of section 2 dealing with the restriction on the sales and supply of meat without a health mark contains an “out” which effectively could allow abattoirs off the hook with the oldest excuse in the book. Ignorance is normally no defence in law and there does not seem any reason that it should be included here.

I referred at the outset to the fact that beef that had been proved unsuitable for export was being sold on the domestic market. This beef came mainly from TB reactors which when slaughtered were found to have new lesions. If the beef is deemed fit for human consumption, at least it should be clearly identified as being the meat of TB reactors and should be sold at a discount to consumers.

I hope that this Bill will end the abuse of fraud in relation to forged meat stamps. In the past few years a number of such cases have come to light as unscrupulous dealers have taken full advantage of county boundaries and the multitude of local authorities involved. This Bill should make it more difficult to get away with these abuses. The argument has been advanced that the work to be done by vets under this Bill should be undertaken by environmental health inspectors. I do not know if this would be the right approach. Environmental health inspectors certainly have knowledge and training with regard to domestic animals, the drugs currently in use for domestic animals, animal welfare, diseases of animals and so forth. I do not want to become involved in a dispute between two professional groups. It is probably a matter that should be brought under review as the Bill is implemented. In any case, it is important that there should be a continuing professional development course for vets engaged in the area of meat hygiene.

To summarise, we are generally happy with the provisions of the Bill. It may not totally remove the abuses that exist in the meat trade but it should make it much more difficult for those involved to get away with them.

[1869]Mr. Flood: Information on Chris Flood  Zoom on Chris Flood  First, I wish to compliment the Minister on so swiftly bringing this Bill before the House. It has been sought for a very long time. I compliment all concerned with its production, it does not matter when or in what form. We have it now before the House and it will make a great deal of difference in the running of local abattoirs. The very fact that we have so few full time veterinary inspectors employed in inspecting local abattoirs — I think there is a total of nine — is an indictment of the present system of examinations. This Bill will ensure that there are no longer dual standards so far as the processing of meat for home and export is concerned. That would be welcomed by everybody.

There has been much concern in recent times, particularly arising out of a number of reports on television and in newspapers, highlighting the operation of local abattoirs. If people had an opportunity to visit some of these unauthorised premises they would take a very dim view of the various practices undertaken and might also vary their own approach to the consumption of meat and meat products. It is for that reason that this Bill attempts to address itself to regularising the situation and ensuring that there is opportunity to enforce proper licensing procedures.

I am also satisfied that the local authorities and the sanitary authorities will have a major role to play in policing this legislation. In some local authorities this work is being carried on to a very high standard and I am speaking with some knowledge of Dublin County Council and Dublin Corporation who have been involved very closely with monitoring abattoirs within their areas. However, there has been concern particularly when meat which has not the required stamp becomes available in certain areas. The way in which inspection is done in many areas, haphazard and often only by part-time veterinary staff, will be regularised and subsequently updated.

Through licensing and charging of fees, local authorities will have some recompense for the work and the cost which [1870] will be involved in operating the legislation. The financial implications are very important. The Minister has addressed them in very good detail in so far as the fee to be charged by the Minister for Agriculture and Food for the conducting of annual licences inspection will be in the order of £10 to £100 per abattoir, depending on the level of slaughtering and £10 in the case of the knackeries. These fees are expected to amount to £40,000 annually for the Department and will cover their costs. It is only right that this should be the case and that the Department should not be put in a position where they are expected to fund, in part or in whole, the issue of the licences.

In support of local authorities, they, too, will be in a position to make charges per head as was outlined, in so far as cattle are concerned, £3.25; pigs, £0.75; and sheep, 55p. These fees will be payable by the abattoir licensee to the local authority and a yield is expected of £1.4 million annually. This is, of course, a costly business in terms of the employment of veterinary staff, both full-time and part-time, and also supporting staff in order that local authorities discharge properly and fully their functions under the legislation. Local authorities in these times should not be expected to incur additional costs in support of an industry that can, if properly run, be highly profitable. They should not be expected to fund in part or in whole the discharge of their responsibilities and functions under the legislation.

The aspect of offences is dealt with and is extremely important. It is right that the fines and penalties imposed for failing to operate abattoirs under the new system should be substantial. The Minister has made very satisfactory arrangements in this regard. I have had occasion to mention this in relation to other legislation.

One area on which I should like to touch very briefly relates to the charging and collection of fees. In section 44 fees are set out; in section 45 reference is made to the fact that the fees will have to be remitted by the licence holder to the local authority within 28 days after [1871] each calendar month slaughtering and according to section 46 the fees are due to the local authority as a simple contract debt. I can see a real problem for local authorities here. If the situation arises that the licensee fails to discharge his indebtedness to the local authority, that puts the local authority in a very difficult position where they have to incur additional expenses, sometimes very substantial legal costs, in trying to collect outstanding moneys. I would have hoped that the Minister could have made this aspect of the proposed legislation tighter. Perhaps he has and I have not understood it clearly. I hope he will be able to find a way in which he can ensure that the local authority would not have to spend additional finance in trying to collect outstanding debts while at the same time allowing the licensee to continue in operation even if the licensee has not discharged his financial indebtedness to the local authorities properly and completely under the terms of the legislation.

One of the problems we always come across when dealing with licensing arrangements is where a licence holder is allowed to continue to trade having failed to remit the fees due to the statutory authority, which in this case is the local authority. This is a problem which I hope the Minister will be able to address and perhaps at some stage he may be able to tighten up this area. I would not like to see costs accruing to the local authority and especially in present circumstances these are costs they could do without.

In the major metropolitan areas there is a full-time veterinary staff employed to inspect local abattoirs and this has led to confidence in people that casualty meat would not be sold for human consumption. In the major built up areas concerns were expressed on this issue and the ability of the local authorities, certainly the one I am familar with, to deal with this issue fairly quickly was welcomed by local communities who are familiar with the complaints as they have arisen and are reported. It is important that the public be reassured that abattoirs will be run properly, that the meat will [1872] be properly processed and packed and that the supervision which the consumer is entitled to expect is adequate. The expanded role of the local authorities under this legislation is to be welcomed.

People are becoming much more discriminating in their consumption of food and the Minister of State, Deputy Walsh, has been very conscious of this fact and has continuously alluded to it since becoming Minister of State. He regards as very important in the production and processing of food that the highest possible standards of hygiene and marketing are attained. Initially, that will be of benefit to the consumer but it will also be of great benefit in the market place in terms of its operation both here and abroad. That is very important particularly at a time when the importation of prepared foods and meat products are causing difficulties for the industry in this country. This aspect has already been referred to by my colleague, Deputy Leonard.

I have already referred to the penalties which may be imposed under this legislation. They are very substantial and any operator who decides to flout the legislation which is now before us will do so at his peril. The penalties include a maximum fine of £10,000 or imprisonment for up to three years and those who decide to infringe the legislation and not conduct the running of their abattoir in a proper manner will be expected to pay the penalty. That is only right and proper.

Section 60 provides for returns by local authorities to the Minister in relation to slaughterings, meat condemnations, casualty and diseased animals and the general operation of the provisions of the Act. I am delighted to see this section included because it will allow for a certain amount of national monitoring particularly in regard to meat condemnations, casualty and diseased animals. There is not a national register which would allow us to see what is going on and the difficulties which have been experienced in individual areas is not available. As I have said, this problem has been referred to in recent times in investigative reports, in the news media and in television programmes [1873] in which were spelled out the dangers to the consumer if an abattoir has not been properly supervised.

I would like to compliment the Minister and his staff for the excellent work which has been done and for bringing the Bill before the House. As the Minister has indicated, the lack of proper and uniform standards will now be a thing of the past and in the future the consumer can expect to purchase a product which has been properly processed in all its stages and we can be satisfied that the complaints which have arisen in the past need not arise in the future. The location of abattoirs was also referred to by Deputy Leonard. He made the point that the Minister in licensing abattoirs should be conscious of the proposed location. Their location does have a bearing on the poultry and pigmeat industries and that should be taken into account in the issuing of licences.

It might amaze some of my rural colleagues when I say that in urban areas we do have abattoirs some of which unfortunately have in recent years been the subject of a large number of complaints. These premises have been in existence for a long number of years and probably were established when the areas began to get built up. In some cases they have been able to flout the legislation, weak and all that it was, that was in place. This is more dangerous in an urban area than people realise. In rural areas there is sometimes a tradition and a pattern. I would be very wary of the product coming out of one particular abattoir. This abattoir received some media attention and as far as I am aware it is still in operation in spite of the fact that it came in for some very severe criticism regarding the manner in which it operated for a while. Following presure from the local authority it closed down but then started up again and found itself in a position of being able to continue operating for quite some time.

There appears to be a vicious circle in that the operators seem to know the problems they are going to face. They are able to cope with them and are able [1874] to deal with the various supervisory visits and investigations which take place. They then start the procedure all over again even though it will be quite clear to them that the manner in which they are operating is completely outside basic standards of law.

Debate adjourned.

Last Updated: 13/09/2010 21:41:51 First Page Previous Page Page of 93 Next Page Last Page