Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
60. Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will review the proposal to introduce a new testing charge for cows being slaughtered, in view of the declining income of farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29105/03]
Mr. Aylward: There is no statutory requirement to test animals slaughtered under 30 months of age and, therefore, no charge to farmers. Under current EU rules, member states are required to undertake BSE tests on all cattle over 30 months of age intended for human consumption and on all casualty and fallen animals over 24 months of age. In the initial stages, following the introduction of the testing regime, the full cost of testing was borne by the Exchequer and the EU. More than 2 million such tests, most of which have been funded by the taxpayer, have been carried out at slaughter plants and other locations since the programme of active surveillance for BSE began in 2001. Against that background it was considered appropriate to transfer some of the costs to the industry on a progressive basis.
Accordingly, from February 2003 the State subsidy for testing male animals over 30 months of age and females over 30 months of age born after 1 January 2000 was discontinued. However, my Department continued to pay the sum of €10.50 per test for animals in this category to reflect the amount received by the Exchequer as EU co-funding in respect of each test. In addition, the costs of testing female animals born prior to 1 January 2000 have been carried by my Department, with assistance from the EU throughout 2003.
From 1 January 2004 the subsidy paid on testing these animals will be reduced from €10.50 to €8 in line with the reduction in EU co-funding for such tests. The full cost of testing cows born prior to 1 January 2000 will continue to be carried by my Department and the EU until the middle of the year when the State contribution will be terminated. EU co-funding of €8 per test for these older animals will continue to be passed on to the industry thereafter. This should also encourage the earlier slaughter of such animals. The Exchequer will continue to carry the net cost of testing casualty, fallen and some other categories of cattle.
Mr. Deenihan: In a year when farm incomes have declined drastically, this is a further imposition on the farming community. It sends out the wrong signal. When the increase is put in place next August, will the Minister of State give a commitment to consider restoring the subsidy in the event that money is available in the Department?
Mr. Timmins: Does the Minister of State agree that the cost of every measure regarding food safety and animal disease is borne by the producer? Could he indicate if the Government intends to reverse the decision of last year whereby disease levies were doubled?
Mr. Aylward: Questions were asked earlier about the total depopulation of herds. I indicated that it was in the interests of the industry that that would continue. No one could question the Department's commitment to totally eradicating BSE. Approximately €2 million will be passed to the industry. That was signalled a long time ago. Everyone accepts that the animals on which the charge is now being imposed, particularly older cows which have given good service to the farmer, have paid for themselves. Perhaps it is time to give something back.
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