Wednesday, 13 April 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Harney gave me notice of her intention to raise the matter and Deputy Doyle gave me notice of her intention to raise a related matter. I suggest each Deputy should make a five minute statement followed by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry who will reply to both Deputies. Is that satisfactory and agreed. Agreed.
Miss Harney: I thank you, Sir, for allowing me to raise this important matter on the Adjournment. The news that the German Government, on the recommendation of its Ministry for Agriculture, was going to ban Irish beef is alarming because of the effect of any such move on our vital food sector which employs 25 per cent of all those engaged in manufacturing jobs and accounts for 40 per cent of our net export earnings.
A total ban would be in contravention of Article 30 of the EU Treaty. That is probably why the German Embassy tells us there will not be a complete ban but restrictions, which would amount to a ban in the Irish case. The German Embassy tells us that a regulation would be introduced that beef from Ireland should come from animals not older than three years or that the herd should have been free from BSE for four years.
The matter that will go before the German Government is surprising from an Irish point of view, I wonder if it is because the Germans want to introduce a barrier to trade. Is it because a recent survey showed that of the German people who were asked to choose between Irish beef and locally produced beef, 65 per cent opted for Irish beef as against 27 per cent for that locally produced? Germany is our second biggest meat market in Europe. This year it is expected to account for £100 million of meat sales, 70 per cent of which is beef and 85 per cent of that, or almost £60 million worth, is added value vacuum packed prime cuts sold in German supermarkets and which are extremely popular.
The damage is already done in this case. When consumers are concerned about a product in terms of health they dramatically change to a different product. The damage done in Germany will not just affect beef but other meat and food products. Ireland will be seen as a country that does not produce high quality food. Damage will also be done in other markets that are very difficult to win.
I am surprised this matter has arisen because we do not have an indigenous beef problem. We have what has been  described as the most stringent BSE eradication programme in Europe. In all we have had only 80 cases of BSE, 16 of them last year, as against 100,000 cases in the United Kingdom, 36,000 in last year. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry should talk to his counterpart in the German Government and contact the President of the Commission and the Taoiseach should raise the matter with the German Ambassador. The Government should, if necessary, provide additional resources for CBF to continue its promotion of the good name of Irish beef, Irish meat generally and high quality food products. This is very important in view of the enormous damage that will be done by this scare.
In 1982 in what became known as the Newcastle case, when the British banned the importation of French turkeys, the European Court ruled against the British decision and they had to pay £12 million in compensation to French turkey farmers. A similar decision would be made in the Irish case, but Irish farmers and the Irish economy cannot wait for a long drawn out court decision. The damage that would be done through that process is unthinkable.
I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to raise this matter. I heard the Minister speak on it on radio today and I know he is concerned about it. There is a general concern, particularly among farmers, but we must not simply express our concern and opposition; we need to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the damage done does not have a permanent effect, as could be the case if we do not organise a vigorous campaign against this proposal.
Mrs. Doyle: The remarks I made are addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, with no disrespect to the Minister of State whom I hope will convey my concerns to the Minister. With confirmation today that the German Health Minister is pressing ahead with plans to restrict Irish beef imports, immediate and determined action from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry is required to defend  our multi-million pound beef industry from further libellous comment and commercial sabotage.
With only 80 cases of BSE in our national herd of seven million compared to more than 100,000 cases in the United Kingdom which has a national herd of 12 million, there is no justification for concern here or abroad about the health status and certification of Irish beef. There is complete depopulation of herds in which a case of BSE arises and the containment of the disease here, despite the virulent outbreak in the UK, is a valid testimony to the strict procedures in place. The innuendo and totally unwarranted scare about health risks from Irish beef comprise a profoundly unfriendly act towards Ireland by the Germany authorities which surprises me. This disgraceful act of commercial sabotage is related to the dynamics of internal Germany politics not to the health status of our herd. The Germany Minister for Health urgently needs to restore his political credibility with Federal elections in the offing, since the scandal of blood products arose there.
Germany farm incomes decreased by 19 per cent in the last three years and at the time Irish beef penetration of the German market increased by more than 50 per cent. This scaremongering could decrease Irish beef consumption in Germany, increase the sourcing of beef there domestically and restore the Brownie points of a Health Minister who is obviously prepared to stoop to any depths to ingratiate himself with the German electorate.
The statement today by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry that “the measures are totally unjustified” is not strong enough. We agree with him, but he will have to stop being so nice and gentlemanly about this matter. The Government was the laughing stock in Europe in its bungled negotiation of our national plan funds—the £8 million saga, the Minister for the Marine is trying to represent his 11-1 defeat last night in Brussels as a victory and now our vital beef industry is being slandered by the German authorities. The Minister for  Agriculture, Food and Forestry has known about this problem for some time but failed to act.
The words of Herr Borchert, the German Federal Agriculture Minister, in Dublin Castle on 30 March last are worth looking at. In his lengthy address to a major agricultural conference, Agrivision 2000, he indicated the difference in trade between Ireland and Germany and said that in 1992 Ireland exported 17 times more agricultural goods to Germany than it imported from Germany, and the export surplus was approximately DM 1.2 billion. He said that “it is above all Ireland's economic advantages which cause great difficulties for German agriculture.” He also stated:
To reduce production is proving to be much more difficult for beef than for cereals and milk. It would be impossible, for administrative reasons, to close down production capacity, and a quota regulation cannot be considered because of the lack of controls at the point of sale.
Maybe another way has been discovered to control the point of sale. He went on to say that the measures taken in this very delicate situation must be again examined. He further stated it has been established that “competition within European agriculture will increase”. I hope that will be done fairly, honourably and with no dirty tricks.
Restrictions are unacceptable, although we would have no difficulty in complying with them. The commercial facts are that suppliers will source beef elsewhere if extra red tape and bureaucracy is introduced. Evidence of this lies in our failure to penetrate the Turkish and Jordanian markets where there has been a huge increase in beef sourced in Europe. In Turkey 22,000 tonnes of beef were sourced in Europe in 1991 and 30,000 tonnes in 1993, but there was no Irish beef. In Jordan 16,500 tonnes of beef were sourced in Europe in 1991 and 46,000 tonnes in 1993, but there was no Irish beef. The reason this beef was sourced in Europe is that while there is no ban, there are restrictions on Irish beef  due to a false BSE scare, and restrictions have the same effect as a ban.
What action does the Minister propose to take in this regard? Is it true that other countries — for example, the Dutch — are concerned about reports emanating from Germany? Is it true that German officials are asking supermarkets to delist Irish beef? How long has the Minister known the intentions of the German authorities and failed to act to counter the libel and slander of this major industry? Will he vigorously lobby the Council of Agriculture Ministers and the European Commission, to force the Germans to withdraw their proposed restrictions and to apologise for their act of commercial sabotage which has inflicted international damage on our reputation as quality beef and food producers?
If all else fails, is the Minister prepared to go to the German courts and, if necessary, the European Court of Justice to redress this damage and to indicate our earnestness in protecting this major quality Irish industry? We await evidence of the Minister's intention to redress the damage that has been done.
Mr. O'Shea: I am glad of this opportunity to clarify the position as to the possibility of measures being introduced by Germany regarding imports of beef from several countries, including Ireland. There is no question of a ban being imposed on Irish beef by the German authorities.
At present, all that exists is a proposal by the German health ministry to impose additional requirements on imports of beef from certain countries, including Ireland, over and above the conditions laid down by the relevant EU Council Directives. I would stress that no decision has yet been taken on the matter in Germany and that there are simply proposals emanating from one ministry on this matter.
Although I am satisfied that Irish beef exports could meet any additional conditions regarding BSE similar to those being proposed by the German health ministry, our view is that these additional  measures are totally unnecessary and that there is absolutely no health risk of any kind attached to the consumption of Irish beef. In particular, there is no evidence at all of any epidemiological or causal link between BSE and human transmissable encephalopathies such as Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease.
I am glad to assure Deputies that the views which I have expressed regarding the proposed German measures have been made known to the German ambassador in Dublin as well as to the authorities in Germany through the Irish Embassy in Bonn. Our objective is to ensure that, in the event of any of the proposed measures being taken in Germany, they will not be applied to imports of Irish beef.
Great care has been taken to make the German authorities aware of the control measures applicable in Ireland regarding BSE. Those measures go far beyond what is required on scientific grounds. They include a comprehensive surveillance system, including ante-mortem examination at abattoirs for signs of disease including BSE and the compulsory notification of the disease; the destruction of animals in which BSE is confirmed and the depopulation of herds in which BSE occurs with full market value being paid by way of compensation to the herdowner and prohibition on feeding of meat and bonemeal to ruminants and, in line with EU legislation, a ban on imports of cattle from the United Kingdom.
The continued low sporadic level of the disease in Ireland — the average number of cases per annum in this country is 16 in a cattle population of 7 million animals — is testimony of the efficacy of the control measures which we have in place.
I would like to assure Deputies that, in view of the importance of the beef sector to Ireland's economy, the matter is being treated with the utmost concern and that no effort will be spared in making our case known to the German authorities.
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