Wednesday, 4 July 1990
Seanad Éireann Debate
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. O'Kennedy): First, may I say it is a special pleasure for me to be back in this House where I started some 25 years ago. I am always appreciative of the role of Seanad Éireann and I look forward to having a constructive debate on this important issue.
The proposed regulations are being made under the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Act, 1979. Their purpose is to secure an increased financial contribution towards the cost of the bovine TB and brucellosis eradication schemes.
The bulk of the expenditure is devoted to the TB eradication scheme which has been in operation since 1954. Despite the expenditure of enormous amounts of public money, commensurate results have not been achieved. The scheme has stalled at various points down through the years. Therefore, in 1988 the Government embarked on a new initiative.
ERAD was established by the Government with the objective of planning and implementing a vigorous four-year programme to accelerate the eradication of bovine TB and brucellosis. The Government undertook to maintain their financial commitment to the running costs of the eradication schemes at £31.58 million and to maintain bovine diseases levies at £22 million.
That commitment of maintaining that level of funding is a unique commitment in the whole programme of public expenditure. Senators will be aware of the Government public expenditure strategy. In areas of great sensitivity to many Members of the Oireachtas and the public whether it is health, social welfare,  justice and education there have been reductions. There is one exception and that is this area because we wanted to put an end to the stop-go experience of recent years. In fact, we have gone further, we have increased the contribution, and that is what this motion is about today.
This was a unique commitment at the time given the overriding need to restore order to our public finances. The basis of the financing was that the farming community and the Government were to fund the running costs in a ratio of roughly 2:1 and when administration costs were taken into account the ratio worked out at 50:50. Both the Government contribution and the rates of disease levies were increased in 1989 over and above the commitment given to provide for increased rates of grants to farmers for reactors. Apart from the financial commitment the other significant aspect was the direct involvement of the various interests involved, the veterinary profession, the farmers and the marts through the ERAD board.
Since its establishment ERAD has strengthened the eradication programme through a series of measures and many of the changes, it must be said, have been suggested by the farmer and veterinary representatives on the board. It implemented a more intensive and sharply focused programme in 1989 involving a full round of testing of the national herd together with special measures aimed at high risk herds. In all, about 12.5 million animal tests were carried out. The success of this programme can be seen in the increase of almost 50 per cent in the number of reactors identified and removed from 29,700 to 43,400. A reactor collection service has also been put in place.
The programme is being further strengthened in 1990 through a series of measures aimed at remedying the weaknesses identified in 1989. A full brucellosis round is being carried out this year with the aim of eliminating the remaining pockets of that disease.
In recent weeks the Government have reviewed the situation on these schemes,  including the financial position and certain operational aspects. A number of issues have come under scrutiny. One such issue is the pre-movement test. It is widely recognised that the existing 120 day pre-movement test is contributing virtually nothing to the eradication effort and that this had to be changed. The recommendation from ERAD was a two month, two stop test under which animals which have passed a test within the previous 60 days would be allowed to be moved within seven days of sale. However, I am considering a refinement that strikes a fair balance between effective pre-movement control and avoiding undue disruption of trade.
Another issue that has come up for discussion is the role of wildlife. I recognise that this issue is highly emotive and people tend to have definite views one way or the other. The Government have agreed to a scientific survey and badger programme in two major blackspot areas. This, together with the normal snaring of badgers for survey purposes under licence, will enable a comprehensive programme on the badget to be put into operation.
The period of restriction in the case of multiple infective herds is to be extended to three clear tests, the final two of which to be at 90 day intervals. The procedures for derestriction of herds have been significantly tightened up, including thorough disinfection of farm holdings before derestriction. I regard these as sensible changes bearing in mind that the object of the exercise is to identify reactors, lock-up infection and lift restrictions only when it is absolutely safe to do so.
Reactor compensation has always been a thorny issue. It and veterinary fees account for the biggest bulk of expenditure under the scheme. Rates of compensation have been adjusted upwards and downwards and I have accepted the principle that the rates should be kept in line with market trends. What has happened recently is that the board of  ERAD has recommended that the categories and rates of reactor grants will be readjusted so as to keep them in line with market trends.
The most immediate difficulty facing ERAD is a financial one. While it is too early in the year to have a firm picture of the number of reactors which will be identified in 1990, it is clear that this number will exceed the annual number envisaged when ERAD was established and on which the funding provided at that time was based. Additional funding will be required for 1990 and probably for 1991 also. As of now ERAD, is facing a shortfall of £12/£13 million this year and, therefore, the programme could grind to a halt in the autumn. The Government have given consideration to this matter and have decided that it should continue to support ERAD and to allow the programme to continue. To do otherwise would be wasteful of earlier efforts and expenditure.
I do not think it is reasonable that the taxpayer should be expected to meet the entire shortfall. The Government have, therefore, decided to increase from 1 August 1990 the rates of bovine diseases levies from £6.90 to £7.90 per animal slaughtered or exported live and from 1.2p to 1.4p per gallon of milk received for processing, a modest increase in the context of the projected budget shortfall. It is estimated that the increases in the levies will yield additional revenue of over £1 million in 1990 and about £3.5 million in a full year. Let me at this point underline that that reverses the established ratio of 2:1 in respect of contributions from the levies and from the Exchequer respectively. What is now being proposed, as a measure of the serious commitment of this Government, is that in this year it will be reversed to a ratio of at least 6:1 in respect of contributions from the Government/Exchequer/taxpayer and from the levies. That is certainly generous. We have to bear in mind that we will want as early as possible to restore the normal pattern through the revenue from those increased levies.
 The increase in the farmer contribution in 1990 will not be sufficient to maintain the 2:1 ratio to which I have already referred. That is clearly so. The new rates will, however, be maintained in force until this balance is restored. In the circumstances, I think the Exchequer is being extremely generous. Unless ERAD have adequate financial resources, all the other issues become academic.
I recognise, of course, that all elements of the programme should operate to maximum effect especially given the levels of expenditure involved. I am concerned that the quality of testing should be the most effective possible and I am pleased that ERAD have established a system to monitor the quality of testing as well as procedures to deal with cases where testing is not of the required standard. Furthermore, I have accepted a recommendation from the ERAD board that there should be an early detailed objective study of testing arrangements with a view to recommending appropriate improvements for the 1991 round, which is the most appropriate time for changes to be made. In fact, it would not be possible to make radical changes of any kind during the currency of the current round and, therefore, the earliest and most appropriate time is the beginning of the next round in 1991. Consideration is also being given to the establishment of a task force which would carry out a portion of the testing programme.
A blood test would represent a major breakthrough the ERAD is associated with the most up-to-date international research in this area. It is currently carrying out a research project on a blood test which has been developed in Australia.
Computerised movement permit control is highly desirable, not just for ERAD but for other reasons and work has begun on such a project. If this work had begun ten, 15, or 20 years ago we would all be in a better position than we are now. If it had begun three or four years ago we would have much more effective and constant access to information. However, it began last year. It is  a formidable operation and undertaking but I am satisfied it is necessary. It is an extremely expensive and complex project which cannot be put in place overnight. To Senators who might say it should be there now, I would say that I agree if it had been started years ago. Meanwhile, I see no reason why farmers should not keep their own records which could facilitate this operation.
It is opportune for me again to remind the House that enormous State funding has been provided for the eradication effort for a period well in excess of 30 years. This Government have given ERAD guaranteed funding, it has also been given a free hand to devise programmes and I have accepted practically all the recommendations that have come from the ERAD board. It is most disheartening in view of this commitment by the Government — and more specifically the taxpayer — to see the representatives of the veterinary profession and now the representatives of the IFA withdrawing from the board of ERAD.
I would say to the veterinary profession that some form of quality control of testing is essential in the context of annual expenditure on veterinary fees in the order of £20 million. Anything less is a disservice both to their profession and to those financing the scheme and to the farmers. I would like to make it perfectly clear that the Government, and in reality the taxpayer, cannot be expected to underwrite the cost of these programmes indefinitely unless the full co-operation of the interests involved is forthcoming. The stark reality is that the national eradication effort has been undertaken to benefit the farming community. There will have to be a realisation that whatever inconveniences are necessary will have to be accepted in the long-term interest of succeeding in the objective of disease eradication.
Time is rapidly running out. We are not now in 1960, 1970 or 1980; we are in 1990, less than three years before the Internal Market and the impact of the measures to implement the Single European Market from 1 January 1993 will have severe repercussions if the time left  is not availed of greatly to reduce our levels of bovine tuberculosis. ERAD was intended to be a partnership. It was envisaged that the partners would take hard decisions. If they were only being asked to take soft, easy decisions on every occasion, there would not have been a necessity for ERAD. The Government have the responsibility for taking hard decisions when required and they have to stick to the task and complete the job. Walking out is an easy option. In fact, it is not an option at all.
We are long past the stage where we can afford the luxury of looking for scapegoats, of pointing the finger at someone else. I would appeal to the interests involved to return to ERAD. I would also like to disabuse farmers of the idea that they are doing the State or the Department a favour by co-operating with the scheme. If they do not wish to co-operate — and I know there are very few who would even contemplate that — they will be doing themselves a disservice.
In conclusion, I would like to draw the Members' attention to the recent EC Council decision setting the level of European Community financial participation for approved national disease eradication programmes in member states. A request for such funding has already been made to the EC Commission. I was very glad I was able to bring that about during our Presidency because of the significance of having for the first time a veterinary fund in place to deal with compensation for slaughter of diseased animals.
However, it is stipulated that a national programme has to be prepared and approved by the EC Commission. I am arranging to have this programme drawn up as a matter of urgency but, realistically, it is most unlikely that such funds will come on stream before the end of 1990. If funds become available in 1991, and I intend to press very hard to secure them, then the disease levies can be reduced in line with the agreed ratio between farmer and Exchequer contribution which is the commitment I always gave when we were launching ERAD. However, it has to be said that  in that event the Commission will more than likely insist on specific conditions which we will have to meet.
Mr. O'Kennedy: Yes, but not just additionality; also efficiency, control, discipline, and penalty where necessary, because they will not be prepared to put funds into a scheme that is not proving to be effective.
This problem has been with us for 30 years. We are coming to the end of the road and nothing short of maximum co-operation and total commitment will suffice. Accordingly, I recommend that these regulations be accepted by the House.
Mr. Howard: When the Minister arrived here he referred to the fact that he was happy to be back where his political career began some years ago. I would like to welcome him here and wish him well but that is the extent of the co-operation I will be extending to him in relation to the matter before the House. In fact, I want to say now that I will be opposing this measure. I will be opposing it as strenuously as I can and I will outline the reasons I feel I am justified in doing so.
It is necessary for me to go back to the beginning, as it were, and to look at the background to this situation. We are 35 or 36 years down the road now and we are over £1 billion down and we are down a road of failure. I am disappointed with the content of the Minister's speech here this afternoon because what it conveys to me is that we are still pursuing the same old lines and with the same machinery that has resulted in the waste of 36 years and over £1 billion of taxpayers' and farming community money.
The Minister has talked about January 1993 and our obligations in the EC at that stage. Perhaps he should also have referred to the fact that the other countries of the EC have been successful in dealing with this problem and that we alone are the failures in this regard. The  Minister said he regretted the withdrawal of the IFA and the vets from ERAD. The withdrawal of both organisations has confirmed that there is no hope of achieving the results we all want to see achieved when we continue with methods that have been tried and have been shown to be failures.
The experience we have had in the eradication of bovine TB for 36 years, as distinct from the eradication of brucellosis which I will deal with later, is that, taking everything into consideration, the £1 billion or more expenditure represents nothing other than a scandalous waste of public funds.
There is a frightening implication in some of the points the Minister made here this evening. There is still that myth being propagated that the responsibility for failure belongs to the herdowners. From my knowledge of the scene, and I believe it is a knowledge shared by many people in public life who are familiar with the situation, there is no farmer or herdowner who will do anything other than co-operate to the fullest possible extent, in eliminating the disease from his herd or ensuring its prevention. The myth has been propagated that the farmers have been solely responsible for the continuation of bovine TB. As far as I am concerned, the responsibility rests elsewhere. It rests squarely on those who over the years organised, controlled and administered the scheme.
There is another disappointment arising from the Minister's speech that the concentration here is on testing cattle. That has been the action that has been pursued since the very beginning in the scheme. Little or no effort has been put into establishing the sources of infection.
Mr. Howard: No worthwhile effort has been put into establishing the source of infection. Therefore, for 36 years and for £1 billion the concentration has been on testing. We are still prepared to continue down the same road and we are still refusing to admit failure. We are still refusing  to place the responsibility where it rightly belongs.
As I have said, to my knowledge, every single herdowner will take every possible step open to them to prevent the disease or to eliminate it but they are doing it with little or no support by way of research or advice. The herdowner is the only player in this whole game who carries the responsibility, incurs the penalty and suffers the consequences.
I wish now to refer to brucellosis in livestock and to the manner in which it was successfully dealt with. In fact, within a few years the disease was brought under control. What were the reasons? I am not in a position to give a definitive answer but I would assume it was because samples were simply numbered, sent off to a lab, tested by some technicians, returned and in a very short period we had a successful outcome in the eradication of brucellosis. If brucellosis can be virtually eradicated in a comparatively short campaign why have we spent 36 years trying to eliminate bovine TB? If the other agricultural countries of the EC can eliminate or reduce bovine TB in their herds to an acceptable level, what is the problem with Ireland? I would suggest that the success of the brucellosis campaign alerted what I will describe unhesitatingly as vested interests to certain dangers that could arise were the successful elimination of bovine TB to be achieved over a corresponding timespan.
The Minister said he would like to disabuse farmers of the idea that they are doing the State or the Department a favour by co-operating in the scheme. He said that if they do not wish to co-operate, they are doing themselves a disservice. I have said that I know of no farmer who is not prepared, and who has not been prepared over the years, to give full and total co-operation but I believe their patience has come to an end. I believe that the withdrawl of both the veterinary profession and the IFA from the board of ERAD is a clear signal that this scheme is on the point of collapse.
I spoke about certain vested interests. Perhaps a more correct definition would  be the dependants on this scheme. Perhaps the Minister when replying would break down that £1 billion plus that has been spent over the past 36 years and let us know where it went to. Who are the dependants? They are, first of all, an army of bureaucrats and administrators who administer the scheme. They are the meat factories. Let us look at the situation in the meat factories. The Minister gave a figure of the number of reactors taken out last year. He said that the success of the scheme can be seen from an increase of almost 50 per cent of the number of reactors identified and removed, that is, from 29,700 to 43,400.
Mr. Howard: He did not. Neither did he indicate that when these so-called reactors were examined at factory level only four out of ten proved to be reactors. Therefore, 60 per cent of the total number of so-called reactors that went into the meat plants were clean cattle; the farmer was paid a reactor price for them. The factories were able to utilise this meat in the normal way and when it was passed on, whether to intervention or perhaps on to the shops in this city it was not passed on at the price of reactor meat. It was passed on at the value of normal meat. In relation to the 40 per cent, or the four out of ten, animals shown up as reactors. I was told by a vet from the Minister's Department that the part of the carcass affected was removed but the rest went on the market as normal edible meat. When I raised a query with regard to the safety of this meat, the answer was that there was no danger provided it was properly cooked.
Mr. Howard: The Senator should be careful. The meat factories depend substantially on the fund which is available under this scheme. Of course, we cannot ignore the vets. They, too, have an interest in the fund and the scheme.
As far as farm incomes are concerned,  1990, has been a disastrous year so far. Farm incomes are down under all the main headings; milk, beef, sheep, pigs and cereals and the Minister in a threatening mood today said he will hit them further. I have listed the dependants but, perhaps we should include farmers as the fourth dependant on the funds of the scheme. Then we can say that of the four groups I have listed only one will take a cut in income this year namely, the farmers. I asked for a breakdown — if possible — of that £1 billion plus which was allocated over the past 36 years; where has it gone in the sectors I have mentioned?
I now want to be parochial and to refer to the situation in my own county. I take no pride in saying that I was involved, in my capacity as a manager of Clare Co-op Marts in the fifties, in spearheading a pilot scheme to eliminate bovine TB in County Clare and west of the Shannon. I worked in close co-operation with a number of senior veterinary people from the Department of Agriculture. I admired their pioneering spirit in those years, the determination of the people involved in taking on the problem, to eradicate it from County Clare, from west of the Shannon, from the Shannon to the midlands and, finally, from Munster. The planning and commitment were good. The co-operation from the farming community, which was part of my job to provide, was also highly satisfactory.
The Clare marts were the first in the country to advertise TB-tested cattle for export and it was a successful enterprise at that time. About two years after the scheme got underway, a blackspot — the Burren area of north Clare — was identified. In 1959 the then veterinary director in the Department of Agriculture came to the conclusion that it was necessary to get to the source of the disease as quickly as possible and he came up with the proposition that a manned research station would be set up in the Burren. That is when the problem started; the proposal was vigorously opposed and eventually smothered. Many reasons were given but the real reason was the  inconvenience it would cause to the veterinary and administrative staff who would have to man that station. It was never provided and, 36 years later, the Burren is still a TB blackspot.
I want to refer to a couple of cases with which I am familiar — and there are countless others. A member of my own family circle was involved at the beginning of this scheme. In fact, it was the 16th herd in the county to be registered under the scheme. In 1956 during the first test there were two reactors. In spite of top-class management and a pedigree herd, in 1988, 32 years later, there were still two reactors. There was no progress whatsoever. I do not want to deal with the financial loss incurred there on two valuable pedigree animals but I want to refer to the total absence of research or investigation as to how the disease got into that farm as it is unusual in the sense that it is virtually an urban farm, surrounded by a golf course and housing. No cattle are within reach of the stock already there. It is a self-contained farm and no animals are bought in. Therefore, this was a typical case in which an investigation should have taken place to ascertain how the disease took hold but despite several requests, including one from me, there was no response. There were visits from inspectors asking about the sale of cattle as if that mattered.
I will move on to another example. In Miltown Malbay a very good dairy farmer supplies milk to the creamery. Since 1969 this man has had a restricted herd and no animals are bought in. Time and time again he has requested that the source of his problem be established. A feeble attempt was made to to do this and I will outline it to the Minister. The testing procedure was taken over from his local vet and a Department vet was sent in. Three days later, tests showed there were reactors but no attempt was made to establish the cause of that man's problem. He has endured hardship and depression——
Mr. Howard: I do not know, I read that one should use disinfectant but this man has done everything within his power. He has asked for advice from his own vet, from the Department and yet he has reactors after 22 years with a locked-up herd. This scheme has been in operation for 36 years and has cost £1 billion. Will the Minister tell us where we are going from here? Does this man face a further 22 years of hardship? Do the taxpayers and the farmers face a charge of another £1 billion? Will we be in the same position in another 36 years because we insist in carrying on with a system that has been shown conclusively to be a total failure?
I want to refer to a third case. It concerns a farmer, or Mr. Willie Neylon, I do not know whether I am allowed to use people's names in the House here but this man has gone on public record about this and I am satisfied he will have no objection to me using his name. He is involved in winterage farming in the Burren. Let us look at winterage farming in the Burren which is unusual. A farmer puts his cattle there in November, they need no hay or silage, they eat the grass, vegetation or whatever is there and are brought home in the spring. Mr. Neylon was required 16 years ago under the regulations to test his cattle coming off the Burren. He was taking them on to low land where they were to be fattened and sent to the factory. He had reactors and his herd was restricted. He fattened off his cattle and they were re-tested once or twice and the disease showed no further indication of spreading on his lowland farm. He sold off all his cattle and wanted to restock his farm in the Burren. He was advised to go back and disinfect it and he did so. He went to the mart, bought totally clean cattle, all recently tested and out of clear herds and he put them on his winter farm. Regulations required that he test them coming off it in the spring and he had more reactors. For 15 years this merry-go-round went on. He made representations to Senators, Deputies, Ministers and councillors in the county in an effort to establish the source of the  infection on that farm but did not succeed. There was no interest in his problem. Yet, this man is expected, under this order, to contribute to what I described earlier as a scandalous waste of public funds. For as long as the reliance remains on testing without establishing the source of the infection, it is a waste of time. However, Mr. Neylon has now got used to this and is cynical about it. He has had the water sampled at his own expense and had cattle crushes installed. Everything has been disinfected but he has not found the source of the infection. He has done everything within his power and resources but the Minister's Department have done nothing to establish the source of the infection.
Not too far from where I live, in the north-western side of Ennis in an area known as Shallee, Slaveen and Cragleigh there has been a major outbreak of disease in the past 18 months. That was clear over the years. It is a dairy farming area. In fact, a couple of herds have been wiped out. I do not know what has been the source of the disease. The herdowners do not know and the local DVO does not know. I do not know whether they are trying to establish the cause but one thing that is known is that about two years ago a herd of wild goats arrived in the area. In desperation farmers in the area captured some of the goats, had them tested and they were found to be reactors. This has been brought to the attention of the Minister's Department but those wild goats still roam in that area and infection grows.
I want to refer to the area of Clooney, Carrahan and Quin in County Clare. It lies between Dromoland Estate in New-market-on-Fergus and the forests in Tulla, County Clare. It is a recognised track for deer moving between Dromoland Estate and the forests in Tulla. That has become a black sport area for TB. I can, under the protection of the House, state that one or two of those deer were tested and found to be reactors. That information has been conveyed to the Minister's Department and I have been informed that the matter is being looked into. What are the sources of  infection? Wildlife has been mentioned and badgers have been mentioned but as far as the depressed herd-owners in my county are concerned there is a growing feeling that wildlife whether it is deer, wild goats or badgers, is playing some role in spreading bovine TB. The Minister's Department and ERAD have shirked their responsibilities in establishing the truth or otherwise of those allegations. For as long as that attitude prevails, I cannot in conscience support the motion.
The question of wildlife is a very emotive one but, perhaps, we can put it in context. Are we saying that identifying the role of the badger in the spread of bovine TB, the role of the wild goat or the role of the deer in Dromoland is not important? There is no doubt that the Minister or his colleagues at some stage in the past six months, when the VIPs were over from Europe, had the pleasure of showing them the wonderful herd of deer in Dromoland. However they were not shown the desolation in the area of Carrahan, Clooney and Quin. The subject of wildlife — it may be that wild goats and the Dromoland deer are included in that — is a delicate one. That is one we have to be extremely cautious about; we could offend people or tread on people's corns by doing that.
Mr. Howard: The point I was making is that this is such a delicate matter with the Minister, the Department and ERAD that they do not want to be seen to identify with creating the slightest doubt that wildlife or the goats or the deer could be responsible. At the same time, they are all prepared to say that the  unfortunate farm families are expendable. They have not got the guts or the courage to deal with this subject.
I do not like closing on that note but we have to put everything in context. It is unfortunate that I have to say that the chairman of the Irish Farmers' Association in County Clare, Michael O'Donoghue, has gone on public record——
Mr. Howard: I will not do that. It appears that farming families are expendable but as far as some people are concerned wildlife, goats, deer and so on, are not expendable. The gentleman I referred to has gone on public record is saying that seven suicides in the farming community in County Clare can be related to the ravages of the disease in their herds. That frightening figure was given last March. Therefore, while an army of bureaucrats and administrators go on from day to day getting a livelihood out of this, as do the veterinary surgeons, while the meat factories cream the scheme, and while that unfortunate situation is developing in my county can I, in reason, be expected to come in here and support the motion?
I will conclude on the wildlife issue. ERAD have stated that in east Offaly, where wildlife has been cleaned out, the incidence of bovine TB dropped from 27 per cent to 6 per cent in two years. Yet, the Minister did not consider it worth his while to refer in depth either to research or the role of wildlife, goats or deer and  he was quite prepared to leave that burden to the farmers.
There has been a total loss of confidence by the farming community in this scheme. It should be recognised that it is grinding to a halt after 36 years of failure, at a cost of £1 billion. What can we expect now? We are getting a re-run of the same old record.
Mrs. Doyle: When Deputy Haughey was Minister for Agriculture he declared the country free of bovine TB. Is it any wonder that former Deputy Clinton did not provide any money for testing for two years when Deputy Haughey had declared the country free of bovine TB.
Mr. Howard: As I have said, ERAD were established a few years ago with much publicity and, indeed, goodwill. People involved in the scheme believed there was to be a new approach to the eradication of bovine TB, a new system and new methods, but this was not so. Basically, all that happened was that a new driver was put into the same old rickety machine that had been there for 34 years.
Mr. Howard: I am sure some of the Members opposite will be glad to know I am coming to the end of my contribution. The Minister must recognise the facts. The end of the road is in sight. Unless research is carried out and the Minister and his Department stop blaming the herdowners we can look forward in 36 years from now in the year 2026, to a further loss of £1 billion or, perhaps £2 billion. In view of the refusal to see the facts and the failure to face up to what is required in dealing with the scheme, I have no option but to reject the Minister's request.
Mr. Hussey: Many of the points highlighted by Senator Howard in relation to the bovine tuberculosis eradication scheme could be applied equally to many parts of rural Ireland. In spite of the fact that the scheme has been in operation for 34 or 36 years, one wonders why those instances are not noted and action taken to eliminate the problems that have been highlighted.
I sympathise with any Minister who has to go into the Dáil or the Seanad seeking to increase levies such as we are being asked to do here. As we all know, farming at present is going through a very trying period with cattle and sheep prices hitting rock bottom and the price of wool dropping to 25p. per pound. Yet, the Minister has to come here seeking an increase in the levies for the elimination of bovine TB from our national herd.
In saying that, I want to congratulate the Minister and Minister O'Kennedy, in particular, because we have all been asking for positive action over the years to try to curb this disease. Deputy O'Kennedy, as Minister for Agriculture and Food, did his best to try to come to grips with the problem. He set up the board of ERAD, who were given a free hand to make recommendations and he accepted  almost all of those put forward. Veterinary surgeons, the IFA, the ICMSA and the Department are all involved in the board of ERAD and they have put forward those recommendations as the best way of tackling this problem.
In the past year the Government have provided a sizeable amount of money to tackle this disease; in fact, £48 million has been provided, £25 million from levies and £23 million from the Exchequer. However, not all of that money has been allocated to the farming community. Much of it has been allocated for other purposes. Only £17 million will go to farmers by way of reactor payments. Veterinary surgeon's fees amount to £19 million and there are a number of other headings which make up the figure of £48 million.
The debate this evening gives us an opportunity to review the activities of the board that was set up some time ago. We know that if any positive progress is to be made certain things have to be done because, as Senator Howard has pointed out, this has gone on for a number of years and we do not seem to be making any great progress. We are fast approaching 1993 and if we do not take the bull by the horns at this stage, in 1993 we will be told what to do because our cattle will not be accepted in mainland Europe unless we can prove that they are free of this disease. We all realise importance of our national herd to the economy of this country, we all realise the number of jobs that are created in the meat industry, we all realise the income from sales of beef and cattle abroad. We want to preserve that at all costs.
A number of recommendations have been made to the Minister by the board of ERAD and one was that a 60 day pre-movement test with two movements only be proposed. This would mean that where a herdowner moves animals to a mart the blue cards will be stamped and if he fails to sell the animals on that day then he will have the option to sell within seven days or re-test the animals. That means that if I bring my cattle to a mart today and I do not sell them I am stuck  with them or else I have to get them re-tested after the seventh day expires. I think that is the most critical part of this proposal, especially as far as the west of Ireland is concerned, because the west does not offer farmers the same convenience as regards marts as applies in the other parts of the country.
If I bring my cattle to the mart today I know I have to sell them because if I bring them back home I am going to have to re-test them. I cannot bring them out to the mart again after seven days without having them re-tested. When word gets round to the dealers, and they are the people who can pass the word around very quickly, it means that the farmer who has to sell his cattle is at a great disadvantage because, more or less, he has to take the price that is being offered or else bring the cattle back and have them re-tested again. As far as the farmers in the west of Ireland are concerned, I certainly would not want to see that proposal put into effect.
Instead of a 60 day pre-movement test, we could have a 45 day test? I would recommend this to the Minister. I believe he should forget about this idea of testing after seven days because I can see this as creating a dreadful problem for the small farmers in the west of Ireland. I hope the Minister will be able to make some concession there and that he will be able to accept a 45 pre-movement test rather than the 60 day test proposed. The question of wildlife has come up time and time again. Badgers certainly have some connection with this disease. In my own area in County Galway we had a very eminent veterinary surgeon who was testing in that area and he carried out some research into this problem in England. He is convinced that the badger is the cause of spreading this disease. Any place where there is forestry and a large concentration of badgers there is a very high incidence of TB. For that reason I would like the Department to redouble their efforts to check out this problem. I would recommend that a survey be carried out to find out what is the position. It is far better to eliminate the badger than to eliminate the farmer. If the badger is not  eliminated, then many farmers will be put out of business because no farmer can afford to carry this problem for too long and it has been going on for too long now.
I regret to see the IFA withdrawing from the board of ERAD. I think they should have remained there. After all, they are the farmers' representatives on that board. They should have remained and put the farmers' point of view and fought their case from within the board. There is very little point in asking us to fight the case for them. They should have remained even if the going was tough. Maybe it is and they are not able to accept the proposals. However, they would have had a far better chance of changing the regulations and making them more acceptable to the farmers from inside the board rather than from outside.
The same would apply to the veterinary union. Again, they have opted out and continue to oppose the basic changes which are necessary for the operation of the scheme, including the signing of form RS62 which was intended to give instructions to herdowners on the reasons for the occurrence of the TB outbreak and the preventive measures that could be followed to avoid further outbreaks. I think that was a very reasonable request to the veterinary profession and I see no reason why they should not comply. Take the case of an outbreak of disease among the general public. Surely the doctor would be prepared to give advice and help and suggest certain preventive measures to eliminate the disease. I see no reason why the veterinary profession could not do the same. I have stated previously in this House farmers could not be blamed for believing that the veterinary profession had an interest in keeping this disease going and, of course, I was castigated afterwards by the veterinary union. It looks that way to many farmers. Certainly the veterinary profession's actions here bears out that view.
I would like to see some uniformity in the method of testing because we all know that farmers seem to select certain vets whom they think it is easier to get by than others. That should not happen.  There should be uniformity between all the vets. There is no reason why one should be put forward as being easier to get by than another. If people are interested in getting rid of the disease, both the farmers and the vets should be prepared to tackle this problem seriously and there should be no difference between one vet and another. They should be all working towards eliminating the disease as fast as they can and saving the taxpayer the amount of money that is being spent on this disease.
I am not going to go on and on. We have highlighted these problems every year and we are getting tired of doing that because we would like to see some progress being made in the eradication of bovine TB. I do not think that farmers would mind paying the increased levies if they thought there was some light at the end of the tunnel. I am very hopeful that the board of ERAD will eventually come to grips with the problem and that they will show the way forward in getting rid of this disease which is such a threat to our national herd. The national herd is very important for our economy and we all know how many people depend on it. For that reason everything should be done to try to eliminate this disease once and for all. If we do not do so before 1993, then somebody else will do it for us.
I hate at this point accepting any increase in levies but I believe the Minister would not come in here this evening looking for an increase unless it was absolutely necessary. On the recommendation I made, that instead of a 60 day pre-movement test he should go for a 45 day, I think we could go along with that. I certainly would be very reluctant to accept——
Dr. Upton: The first thing that should be said about this problem is that it is a complex one. If it was not a complex one it would not be around for the length of time it has existed. Some of the attitudes which people have taken here this afternoon suggest to me that they are under the impression it is a simple matter but it is not. That is the first thing we should be clear on. It is a multifactorial problem to which a whole series of differing factors contribute. They vary and become more important or less important in differing sets of circumstances. That is the reality and trying to simplify it into this group or that group being responsible for the problem is not at all addressing the full picture.
The history of this is that from about 1964 onwards the levels of reactors stabilised at around something like 40,000 reactors per year, having declined from huge numbers of reactors of the order of 120,000 to 160,000 in the early years of the eradication programmes. From 1964 to 1975 there was a fairly general downward trend and then subsequent to that the number, as I understand it, has levelled out. In the south of the country there was something of a decline in the incidence of TB and in the north of the country there was, as it were, a corresponding increase so that the situation has tended to remain pretty stable at around 40,000 reactors per year over this period. That level of reactors in the national herd is unacceptable and part of the reason that was put forward for the failure to solve that problem was the fact that the money was being given on a stop-go basis. Thus, the establishment of ERAD was seen as one way of getting around that difficulty.
As I understand the situation, there are three basic factors which seem to be important in the continuation of TB as a problem. The first one is the failure to take out all the reactors. The second one  is the failure to lock up infection and the third one is the failure to control the geographical spread of TB. That is very much related to the fact that here there is enormous to-ing and fro-ing and movement of animals between farms. There are of the order of 12 million cattle movements each year in this country. If you were into the business of spreading infection you could not think of a better way of setting about it.
In relation to the failure to take out all the reactors, an enormous problem there is simply related to the test. There are great difficulties and problems arising from the lack of accuracy of the test. Here is one area in which we in this country have been extremely negligent, to the extent that we have not set about a systematic approach to developing new tests. Happily, that has changed over the past few years and I am very pleased to see that there is now vigorous research going ahead in the area of trying to develop a blood test. It is going on in the veterinary college where I spend some of my time when I am not around here and I am very encouraged by what I see going on there.
However, I do not think anything like enough is being done; I do not think enough money is being spent or, for that matter, that the effort which is made is coherent enough. I would like to see the research effort involving people who have expertise in these areas outside of the veterinary college. I refer in particular to people in University College, Galway who have a good track record in terms of developing diagnostic tests and so on. The group led by Pat Fortune have quite a good track record in doing that and I would like to see those types of groups involved in the research effort. I would also like to see anyone else in the country who has a contribution to make in this area row in to try to get this test up and going because it is very important.
The second thing which is very important is that we maximise international co-operation in this area. Quite a bit of work is going on overseas in America and so on. I know there is ongoing contact  between the people in the veterinary college and the US but there is need for more money to be put into developing and enhancing those contacts by getting Irish people over to America and getting Americans and other people to this country so that we can develop that test. If we do that it will have two great advantages for us. First, it will help to solve our own problem. Secondly, it will allow us to develop products and the technology which we can sell to other countries and make quite significant profits for the country and also generate for ourselves an increased technological capacity and an increased credibility in those areas. For those reasons I am very anxious to see more money put into highly focused research with the objective of developing a test which will be reliable, accurate and convenient to use.
The test which is at present in use has a whole series of difficulties attached to it. For example, there are variables such as if the animal happens to be on certain types of drugs it will interfere with the proper functioning of the test. If there are certain types of infections in the animal it will interfere with the proper functioning of the test. There are also whole aspects of this test which never seem to have been researched at all. For example, is the same amount of the tuberculin delivered by the syringes that are used? Are they adequately accurate? There are all those elementary things which as far as I am aware have never been studied to the necessary extent.
The second problem is the one of failure to lock up infection. There is a very high level of breakdowns and people simply buy in and sell off infected animals. That is a very touchy point with farmers in relation to the extent to which herds are locked up and it creates great economic difficulties for them. At the same time it is absolutely imperative if we are going to succeed that we get our act together there and do what needs to be done even if it is politically quite difficult, and I do not want to minimise the difficulties which that would create.
The third problem is one to which I have already alluded and that is the whole  business of the geographical spread of the disease. Here, it is very important that we should establish a system to make it possible to trace each animal and everywhere it has been from the day it was born to the day it is slaughtered or dies. That is very important so that if you run into infections and so on you will be able to see where the animals from the infected herd have gone, possibly taking the infection with them so that you can then go along and check those herds and set about sorting out the problem. As things now exist, there is a great deal to be desired in how we handle that problem. Again, I fully understand that implementing the solution to that problem can create many difficulties.
In relation to what is being done I am happy to quote from the Kennedy Memorial lecture by Dr. Liam Downey, the director of ERAD, who made two broad suggestions. First, he suggested that as a country, we have become, obsessed with keeping the herds clear, and the term “obsessed” is his, not mine. I feel we are a good distance away from being obsessed with keeping our herds clear. The second thing he suggested was that the ultimate responsibility for this whole business rests with farmers. I find a lot that I would agree with in both those suggestions. It would be very useful if they were taken up and acted upon.
In many cases we have a lackadaisical enough attitude to infection and disinfection and the whole principle of cleanliness. In that area there is considerable scope for improving the amount of advice and the manner in which it is given to farmers. There is great need to raise the consciousness and awareness of farmers in relation to the need to have the highest possible standards of hygiene and the need to disinfect their farms. Farmers should also be aware of the fact that in some cases total disinfection of areas is simply not a possibility.
It is also very important that farmers should be alerted to the ease with which this disease can be spread. I believe the tuberculin microbe can travel as far as eight kilometres in aerosols which arise from slurry which is being spread on  farms. I do not know whether most farmers would be aware of that. I hope I am wrong but I do not think they would. That shows the importance of ensuring that when slurry is put out on farms people should know what they are about, that they know the risks and set about minimising them. That is one example that illustrates the importance of a comprehensive advisory programme for farmers and for people who deal with animals.
The implications of not getting the act together and sorting this problem out are enormous. There is the knock-on effects with the Internal Market, etc. Again, that is going to create tremendous difficulties. One thing that would be important here is if we could get some system where herds are guaranteed to be free of this disease and a special emphasis should be put on the disease history of herds and that should become a factor when animals are being bought from herds. In other words, when you buy an animal from a herdowner it would be very useful to know the history of that herd in relation to the incidence of disease, etc. That would be an important item of information. If they were aware of a low incidence of the disease. I hope it would also become a determining factor in the amount of money which would be paid to farmers.
The Labour Party will be opposing the motion primarily because of the fact that the board of ERAD now seems to be in disarray. It is certainly difficult to justify putting more money into an organisation where people are walking away from it as in the case of the veterinary representatives and more recently the farmer representatives not being prepared to stay with the board of ERAD. That certainly has to be a very important factor in determining our position.
Mr. Dardis: Earlier this afternoon this House, rightly, acknowledged and celebrated the achievements of our football team and what they did in Italy as being one of the greatest achievements in sport in this country. In this instance of bovine  TB and disease eradication we are talking about one of the greatest failures in the history of the State. Certainly in an agricultural sense it is undoubtedly one of the greatest failures in our history that for over 30 years and having spent £1 billion we still have not eradicated the disease. At this stage taxpayers are quite rightly entitled to ask what value they have got for the money they have invested over the years. I do not think any Government of whatever shade can wash their hands and say they were not in some way responsible for the situation which we are faced with here today.
I welcome the tone of the Minister's speech. I hope that what he has said today will come to fruition and that, once and for all, we can get this disease under control because the consequences for us are extremely serious. With the Single Market confronting us, what are we going to do on 1 January, 1993 when bovine disease is still in our midst and when we have to sell into that market? We are already confronted with the situation where red meat consumption is falling. We all know the effects of Bovine Spongifom Encephalopathy, or “mad cow” disease as it is more commonly known, on the market for beef. In some ways we are confronted with a similar situation here. I can imagine our failure to eradicate bovine TB being used as a major marketing block on Irish beef when we come to export it after January 1993. Indeed, I am sure it will be used even in the interim by our competitors to cast a finger at us.
We have had a situation over the years where we have the farmers blaming the vets and the Department, we have the vets blaming the Department and the farmers, we have the Department blaming the farmers and the vets. We have this circular round of movement where everybody blames everybody else, the deficiencies of the scheme are pointed to by everybody but there does not seem to be a genuine will on the part of all involved to eradicate this disease. I share what Senator Upton said in relation to the multifactorial nature of the problem, that each element within the problem is  singled out, highlighted and all the other elements which contribute to the continuation of bovine tuberculosis are forgotten about.
Senator Howard mentioned earlier the number of people who are depending on the scheme and I would share some of his views in relation to that. I think any group of people who get £20 million from operating the scheme, as do the vets, obviously have a vested interest in seeing that the status quo is maintained and that we continue along the line we have been going despite their best endeavours. I do not doubt the integrity of the majority of the veterinary profession but I do say there are members of that profession who have been less than ethical in the way they have conducted themselves over the years. I would also say that if they were to look dispassionately at the matter they would still see that there is an income for them in relation to advising farmers on how they might prevent the disease and on how we deal with the disease, etc. There is a market there for that and I do not think that eradicating the disease would automatically remove vets from what has been a lucrative source of income.
It was suggested to me earlier today — I do not know whether it is correct or not and I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong — that there are veterinary practitioners in this country who are qualified in veterinary medicine and who know nothing more than testing. If they were asked by a farmer to come out and deliver a difficult calf they would not be able to do so. I hope that is not true.
Mr. Dardis: That was suggested to me this afternoon. I share the sentiments expressed by Senator Howard in relation to the whole bureaucratic process which supports this scheme and in relation to the meat factories and what their vested interest might be. I would also say it is not right that the Irish Farmers Association and the vets withdraw from the board of ERAD. I do not regard that as being the right thing to do. The way you  achieve change is to stay in the body of which you are a member, put your points as vigorously as you can, hope they carry it and at the end of the day you can at least arrive at some acceptable compromise which can be accepted across the board.
Having said that, I realise that asking farmers at the moment for an extra £1 a head and an extra 0.2p a gallon to fund this scheme at this moment is not something they can be easily asked to do given the way farm incomes are going at the moment. It may seem churlish to say that £1 a head is much money. It is not much money but in relation to the profit or loss which people are making from beef it is quite a considerable amount of money. I believe that any organisation or any group of people who contribute £25 million a year to the operation of a scheme and are now being asked to contribute more are entitled——
Mr. Wright: I want some advice as to how this matter should be handled. If it is agreed, we will come back to this debate at 11 o'clock tonight. The Minister has agreed that he will come in tonight to take this motion at 11 o'clock.
Mrs. Doyle: Perhaps we could tease this out, because there is a lot of goodwill on both sides of the House to discuss this vital issue. Could we not finish up now and push all business back an hour? Let us be tidier, let us finish what we are at and push everything back.
Mrs. Doyle: I am sorry. I cannot agree to just one hour because I will then be accused of being selfish if I speak for  more than ten minutes and you have three speakers offering. I am pre-empting that now.
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