Thursday, 18 May 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
6. Mr. Killeen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the actions, if any, planned to improve the beef merit of Irish cattle and bring about an improvement in the grades of cattle for processing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13756/00]
Mr. N. O'Keeffe: Primary responsibility for the improvement needed in the grades of Irish beef cattle rests with the industry itself, in particular, through better breeding and husbandry practices and the operation graded pricing. However, in view of the importance which I attach to bringing about an improvement of the grades of Irish beef, I have asked the beef task force monitoring committee to progress the issue of graded pricing, which I believe is a vital prerequisite for the production of better quality cattle. In addition, my Department is strongly supporting moves at EU level to introduce mechanical classification in order to provide a more objective basis for a graded pricing system.
As far as breeding is concerned, the breeding demonstrations undertaken by Teagasc around the country earlier this year, combined with the activities of the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, are designed to promote the value of better breeding practices among Irish producers in order to bring about an overall improvement in the quality of Irish cattle and, in that way, ensure that the beef processing sector has an adequate supply of quality beef to meet the requirements of the European market. I am satisfied that all of these initiatives should bring about a significant improvement in the grades of Irish beef.
Mr. Penrose: I questioned the Minister of State previously about grading. Like my colleagues I compliment Dr. Allen, Nicholas Finnerty, the Department and the Minister for taking this matter on board. I am supportive of whiteheads. Is it not the position that there should be incentives for beef farmers to use continental crosses that would give increased carcass weight, higher muscle weight, increased lean saleable meat yield as that is where the profit is? While Teagasc is conducting a number of trials and courses throughout the country to emphasise this, will the Minister of State agree a mistake was made a number of years ago when the breeding criteria were dropped?
Mr. N. O'Keeffe: When the Deputy referred to whiteheads I thought he was referring to my head. Flat rate pricing has not helped the beef industry. There is a tendency towards flat rate pricing at present and that is an upsetting factor in terms of quality. We cannot have quality if there is equality of price. I agree breeding is vitally important. While the quality of our beef is among the best in Europe based on the statistics available to me, the breeds which will be important for the future are Limousin, which has a high kill-out with muscle, good confirmation and good quality, followed by Belgian blues, Sementhals, Charolais, Angus and Herefords. Herefords are the bottom of the pile.
If there is to be efficiency in the beef industry the first breed mentioned is important. I have been told about kill-outs on bull beef and Limousins of 66% as against 56% from the traditional breeds here. Those breeds would mean an increase of £40 to £50 per head to an Irish farmer. Breeding will have to be directed in that direction and farmers will have to be encouraged to get the best breeds available. We have model suckling herds in the western seaboard.
Mr. Ring: What plans has the Minister of State to educate farmers on the problem and how to rectify it? We all know the problem has existed for many years. We know from recent reports how many kills were fit for the European market and the decline in the product in the past number of years. What proposals are there to train farmers? What courses are available? What initiatives are there to encourage higher quality breeding?
Mr. N. O'Keeffe: The Minister, Deputy Walsh, was complimented earlier on Grange which has been innovative and to the forefront in the development of the beef industry of the future. Much work is being done in that area. We cannot take people by hand. We are there to regulate and to lead. Teagasc has held a number of information meetings, one of which I attended in Kilkenny. It included a beef demonstration. All meetings were well attended. There was a huge gathering at the meeting in Roscommon, which is the Deputy's area. People attend those meetings to be educated on the market requirement.
Much work is being done. It has to be voluntary and not regulated and we cannot do that. Deputy Penrose's and Deputy Ring's parts of the country have led the way in good suckler herds and have some of the finest beef breeds which are ideal for the export markets of Spain, Italy and other countries.
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