Tuesday, 19 October 1999
Seanad Éireann Debate
An Cathaoirleach: Before the debate commences, I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. In addition, on Report Stage each amendment must be seconded.
 Some amendments are being recommitted and a Committee Stage style debate may take place on the amendments which are recommitted. Amendment No. 1 is a Government amendment. This amendment does not arise from the Committee Stage debate.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Joe Walsh): Under the Bill, the term “abattoir” is intended to cover only small local abattoirs operating on the domestic market which are subject to the provisions of the Abattoirs Act, 1988. The larger export slaughtering plants could also be described as abattoirs and their exclusion from the scope of the 1988 Act was achieved by the non-application clause under section 4 of that Act. To avoid any potential confusion, this differentiation needs to be reflected in the National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill also. Therefore, the large export plants come within the definition of meat plant under the Bill.
Mr. Joe Walsh: There is a need to amend the definition of Minister to reflect recent legislation changing the title of the Minister from the Minister for Agriculture and Food to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. It is a technical matter.
Looking through the amendment it is clear the Minister has taken on board some at least of the concerns raised on Committee Stage last July. It is a good example of the benefit of giving time to the consideration of Bills. In this instance, between Committee Stage and this Stage, the Department and the Minister have had the  opportunity to consider the points made and to consult with the partners in the food industry. We should take this aspect on board when we consider the ordering of business. It is essential that sufficient time be given to the consideration of legislation and that there be a sufficient interval between the different Stages of Bills to ensure that the final draft of the legislation is the best.
However, I am disappointed the Minister has not taken on board the points contained in amendments Nos. 3 and 4. They form a core part of the submission we made on Second and Committee Stages. This is fine and desirable legislation. We all hope the quality of the Irish beef product is the highest possible and commands the full confidence, not only of the industry and the Irish consumer but of consumers abroad. In this context we engaged in lengthy debate on earlier Stages in urging the Minister to consider the extent of the scope of the Bill.
Amendment No. 3 seeks to give the Minister power by regulation to phase in the application of the Act to food businesses. This is reasonable. Amendment No. 4 is self-explanatory. It inserts the words “in order to assure the quality of beef throughout the food chain from farm to table”. This sums up the essential point of the legislation.
This matter was debated in depth on Committee Stage, but it is very important to the operation of the legislation and to the context of what it seeks to achieve, which is not only to guarantee quality but to build confidence in the beef industry and product, especially among consumers. It is essential, therefore, that the amendments be accepted. They would strengthen this welcome legislation, which is so important to the industry.
I appeal to the Minster to give positive consideration to these amendments. In the long term we may find it necessary to amend the range of the legislation if the initial thrust of the Bill is found to be insufficient. The desirability of ensuring food quality is the Minister's highest priority and he is doing much to achieve that. In view of this, I ask him to go that extra mile and beyond what the public expects. In that way we will build confidence in our product, which is what the legislation is designed to achieve.
Dr. Henry: I second the amendment. This is splendid legislation and can only be improved by Senator O'Meara's amendment. Section 2 indicates the link the provisions in the Bill will have with the Food Safety Authority. The amendment will make it possible by way of regulation to apply the provisions of the Bill to the full business.
The longer the debate has gone on regarding the beef situation and the need to have a national beef assurance scheme, the more I am convinced that this is one of the most essential pieces of legislation governing the food industry for a very long time. I re-read recently the work done in the European Union on the use of hormones in beef and I do not understand how the World Trade Organisation has the cheek to say that the appli cation of the World Trade Organisation regulations must supersede the desires of European consumers to eat hormone-free beef. If consumers must wait for scientific proof that something will kill them or cause them danger, they will be waiting a long time.
I recall that it took approximately 70 years to discover that aspirin causes Reye's syndrome in small children. The same applies to nicotine in cigarettes. Synthetic hormones are given to beef-producing animals and since we have no idea what they or their metabolites do, therefore we cannot say they are safe. This is what is important throughout the food industry. We are not in a position to say if these hormones are safe for adults, let alone prepubescent children or pregnant women, or in what quantities. We do not know if the hormones are applied improperly to some part of the animal which is eaten. It is important that foodstuffs are regulated right through to the table, as it were. I hope the Minister will take this on board.
Mr. Quinn: I have changed my mind since the Second Stage debate regarding this point on the basis of the Minister's explanation that the National Food Safety Authority looks after this issue and that avoiding the duplication of authority makes sense. I attended the Anuga Food Fair last week together with the Minister of State, Deputy O'Keeffe. We attended a function where some of the large American companies now based in Europe clearly had no understanding of the depth of consumer feeling about hormones and food safety. They assumed this regulation was being driven by the Government, particularly regarding the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle next month, to strengthen a protectionist policy. We had to explain the position to them.
One of the points made at the meeting was that in the United States there is great respect for the Food and Drugs Administration. However, there is a difficulty and I will give the reason I now support the Minister. The FDA looks after the safety of products that do not contain meat. A pizza must get FDA approval, but if meat is included on the pizza then one must get the USDA approval also. Sometimes there is almost a turf war between the two which can cause delays, a lack of control and lack of responsibility. I did not understand this when the Bill was being debated in June. Like Senator O'Meara, I then urged the Minister to consider including retail in this area. Given that I now understand the Minister's viewpoint and having heard the problems that occur in America where there is a difficulty because demarcation is not clearly drawn, I now conclude that the Minister is correct. Senator O'Meara's proposal does not demand that this should apply to retail outlets but seeks to include the words “provided that the Minister may be regulations phase in the application of this Act to  food businesses”. I think it was giving him permission to do so at some point in the future, and perhaps the Minister might give some consideration to that. However, I believe the Minister has got it right and that there is no need to do so at this stage. It would only be an empowering amendment.
I wish to raise the work that has been put into the Bill, something mentioned by Senators Henry and O'Meara. I think the Bill will strengthen the Irish beef industry and food business, and recognition of it, because of the work that has been put into it. I support what the Minister is trying to achieve and I hope that when the Bill is enacted it will have achieved what the Minister has set out to achieve. The Bill is worthy of support and on this amendment I go with the Minister's view which he explained on Second Stage.
Mr. T. Hayes: I support Senator O'Meara's amendments and see where she is coming from. I was not here on the previous two days when this Bill was debated, and indeed from reading the Official Report I may have taken a different line from that of my party colleagues, but that is water under the bridge. I am concerned by some of the wording in the introductory section of the Bill because one would be frightened, and somebody from outside the country would be frightened, by what our beef cattle and beef contained. Given some of the words used in the Bill one would be frightened that some of our food is nearly poisoned.
Some of the food marketing people had a saying about “from farm to fork”, a slogan which could be coined in terms of these amendments. I know there is much concern about meat coming into the country. I have been contacted about this matter and asked where this food is coming from and to which outlets it is going. People are asking where the beef we are eating, be it at a wedding or at a meal in a restaurant, is coming from. I certainly see a need for retailers and restaurateurs to be brought into this issue and I therefore support the amendment.
Mr. Joe Walsh: I thank all the Senators who have contributed to this section. I very much favour introducing legislation in the Seanad as it gives not only Senators but also the general public an opportunity for debate and discussion. In relation to food safety and consumer concerns in general, we are more advanced than most other countries. However, we must keep right up at the cutting edge. On my last occasion in the House, which I think was about 6 July, I said that because we are seen to be serious about food safety the likelihood was that we would have a commissioner with responsibility for food safety and consumer concerns. I am sad to say that the Upper House does not get that much attention from the media so, even though this was a nice gem of information, it went unreported. Maybe  media attention to the House might be improved a little.
Mr. Joe Walsh: Some would say that if one really wanted to bury a good story it should be announced in the Seanad, although that is a bit of an exaggeration. Nonetheless, very good work goes on here and maybe more attention should be paid by the general media to what happens in the House.
I propose to take amendments Nos. 3 and 4 together. These concern the inclusion of food businesses and retail outlets in the general food chain. I emphasise that there is legislation already covering that end of the food chain and there is no sense in duplication. I take the point made by Senator Feargal Quinn on the United States where there are two agencies which are always bickering and wasting time. It takes an inordinate length of time to get any kind of worthwhile measures through the system in the United States. This situation should be avoided.
This Bill must be read in conjunction with existing legislation on food which already covers food businesses and retail outlets. Such businesses are already strictly regulated under the European Communities (Hygiene of Foodstuffs) Regulations, 1998, Standing Order No. 86 of 1998. These regulations set out detailed standards for premises and procedures in respect of food businesses, covering the entire scope of their operations. The regulations are enforced by the health boards, which are agents of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and which operate a system of regular controls, inspections, sampling and analysis, the criteria for which are laid down in the European Communities (Official Control of Foodstuffs) Regulations, 1998, Standing Order No. 85 of 1998. These regulations provide to the health boards powers of seizure and detention of product, product withdrawal, suspension of operations or closure of businesses. There is also power to prosecute such businesses in the courts.
In a relatively short time the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has got up and running and it is doing a very good job. The secondment of staff has been completed. It was right that this body was appointed and the responsibility given to the Department of Health and Children. Officials in Agriculture House are regarded as being too close to the producers and farmers. Consumer confidence is essential. Dr. Pat Wall has made a great impression since his appointment and speaks with such authority that he engenders that confidence.
It would be a duplication and a waste of valuable resources to include these businesses and the registration, inspection and approval processes under the National Beef Assurance Bill. The introduction of a two-tier inspection and approval  system for these businesses would also be contrary to the Government's regulatory reform initiative, which seeks to simplify regulations and procedures for businesses. However, by regulating primary production and processing, the National Beef Assurance Bill will regulate the sources of supply for such businesses. Under the scheme this sector will be obliged to ensure that when buying or receiving beef they deal only with participants who are approved. This provision is contained in section 6(1)(d). Non-compliance will constitute an offence, for which rigorous penalties are provided in section 25.
In addition, provision has been made in section 28 for the appointment of authorised officers to check whether this provision is being complied with. The combination of the legislation operated by the health boards and the National Beef Assurance Bill will ensure that the entire food chain is encompassed with regard to production, processing and sale of Irish cattle and beef.
On amendment No. 4, section 5(1) outlines the classes of person to whom the Act applies. They are listed in the First Schedule of the Act: farmers, manufacturers or traders of feedingstuffs, dealers or exporters of live animals, assembly centres or marts, abattoirs and meat plants. The intention is that all persons involved in the production or trading of cattle or beef for human consumption or feedingstuffs will be subject to regulations under the Act. While food businesses have been excluded from the registration, inspection and approval provisions, they will not escape the net of the National Beef Assurance Bill. Such businesses are already strictly regulated under the food hygiene regulations under the control of the health boards. To include them in the provisions of this Act would constitute duplication which would be a waste of resources and would lead to a two-tier process of inspection and approval which would be contrary to the Government's regulatory reform initiative.
The regulating of primary production and processing will regulate the sources of supply for food businesses. Under the scheme they will be obliged to source their supplies only from approved participants. This provision is contained in section 6(1)(d) and non-compliance will constitute very serious penalties.
There is also an amendment proposed to the section, after “therefrom”, to insert “in order to assure the quality of beef throughout the food chain from farm to table”. This proposed amendment appears to follow from the misunderstanding of the scope of the scheme and the supposed exclusion of food businesses. Food businesses are covered by the Bill in so far as it is necessary without creating this two-tier approval process. The language proposed is to ensure that there are pristine quality standards throughout the food chain from the pasture to the palate or from production to the final consumption. This Bill will provide those standards. The inclusion of this sen tence would give the wrong signal to consumers as it would convey the mistaken impression that the Bill as drafted was not all-embracing and comprehensive.
Ms O'Meara: If a mandatory framework was constructed from the amendments which I was proposing then I could accept the Minister's reply. It is not and the Minister is given a choice. The wording is carefully constructed. The Minister may, by regulation, phase in the application of the Act to food businesses, should the need arise. That need could arise because one does not know what the future will bring but one could envisage a situation whereby some serious event occurred in the operation of food businesses which created a major public demand for the extension of the scope of the Act to food businesses. While I accept the Minister's point about the work of Dr. Wall and the authority he has established in a relatively short time, the manner in which this amendment is framed does not do any harm but constructs quite a positive possibility for the legislation.
Mr. Joe Walsh: This is a relatively small amendment which provides for a new subsection (9) which will oblige participants to provide  accurate information when applying for a certificate of approval. The aim of the amendment is to strengthen the regulatory provision for applicants for approval under the Bill. What does the Minister mean by accurate information? Is it in relation to premises or animals?
Mr. R. Kiely: From a farmer's point of view, a person who knowingly and willingly gives any false or misleading information in respect of an application for a certificate of approval should be guilty of an offence. Farmers are not used to paper work and may make clerical mistakes. There should be safeguards to prevent simple mistakes being made.
Mr. Joe Walsh: This amendment is straightforward and does not affect or apply to what may be regarded as innocent errors which can be made by the best regulated people. It provides very specifically that any person who knowingly and wilfully gives false or misleading information in respect of an application for a certificate of approval shall be guilty of an offence. It is strictly within the terms of a person “wilfully and knowingly” giving false and misleading information in relation to his premises and stock. There is no question of including innocent mistakes in a particular form. The amendment is specific.
Mr. Tom Hayes: The matter of cattle ear tags may illustrate and explain the point. Ten per cent of ear tags fall off annually, through no fault of the farmer. Someone may submit an application form and cattle may have lost the ear tags at inspection time a month later.
Mr. Joe Walsh: There is no question of penalising people for an innocent error. Animals lose ear tags; the owner of the farm does not remove them. Therefore the farmer cannot be accused of wilfully doing something which is not of his own making. It is outside his control and competence.
Mr. Joe Walsh: In response to concerns expressed on Committee Stage and following consultation with the Attorney General, the Government is happy to put forward an amend ment extending the fixed period for continuance of a certificate of approval following the death of an individual from six to nine months. This period may be further extended at the discretion of the Minister.
Mr. Quinn: I congratulate the Minister on accepting this amendment which was put forward on Committee Stage. It shows the great value of thinking over something rather than rushing it through. Senator O' Meara referred to the danger that the Bill might have been pushed through in one day in July. The Minister listened to the points made on Second and Committee Stages and in this, as in other instances, he has accepted them. I congratulate him on listening and responding to the concerns of Members.
Mr. Joe Walsh: The nine month gestation period has a revered place in world culture. Everyone is familiar with it. Concern was expressed that nine months might not be an inadequate timeframe. I acceded to Senators' requests to extend the period to nine months. In exceptional circumstances this period may be further extended by the Minister of the day.
Mr. Joe Walsh: Following discussion on Committee Stage and consultation with the Attorney General's office the requirement for 21 days' notice in relation to the issue of a notification to refuse or revoke a certificate of approval is deleted. The amendments are intended to address the concerns that the timeframe provided for in relation to the refusal or revocation of a certificate was too long while also retaining the right of an individual to appeal such decisions. The deletion of the period of notice should not cause any difficulty for the applicant who will be aware of the pending refusal or revocation following the outcome of the inspection and the failure of follow-up action to resolve the difficulties concerned.
Dr. Henry: We are looking at the Copyright Bill and are keen to make lasting legislation. Will “in writing” include by e-mail? This will probably  be the most likely form of communication in a very short time. I know that farmers will be as well up as everyone else. Rural postal services will be the first ones to go down the road of technology. I do not use e-mail that often, but many people are communicating that way. We do not want something that will last just a year or two.
Mr. Joe Walsh: Yes, it will include e-mail. I was in Rosscarbery yesterday and met a farmer who said that the recent difficult weather had “banjaxed” his computer and e-mail system. I said to myself that we are making real progress here. Many young people have PCs and can talk about their modems and e-mail. Individual producers and sub-post offices are up to date. We in Ireland are as up to date as any other country. The Senator's point is a good one and e-mail will of course be included.
Mr. Joe Walsh: The purpose of the amendment to section 19 is to delete the subsection relating to offences because the offences provision for the contravention of regulations made under the Bill are being grouped together under an amendment to section 32.
On Committee Stage there was criticism of the practice of creating indictable offences under regulations rather than in primary legislation. The drawing up of regulations allows a wide variety of different circumstances and procedural responses to be provided for. It would be difficult and probably inappropriate to achieve this detail in primary legislation and exclusion of indictable offences from regulations made under the Bill would seriously weaken the effect of the Bill. I consulted the Office of the Attorney General and its view was that this gives the Minister more wide-ranging powers and it is legally permissible. The section, therefore, provides a useful enabling  clause for the strict regulation of the registration and identification of cattle.
Ms O'Meara: This point was raised on Committee Stage for the reason set out by the Minister. The creation of offences by regulation is a practice which might come back to haunt us in the future and on Committee Stage we attempted to raise our concerns about it. Certain serious offences should be contained in primary legislation rather than be created by regulation. The generation of regulations is widespread and legislators find it impossible to keep up with them. It is a serious matter from that point of view and one about which I am concerned.
The Minister has taken on board the points we made on Committee Stage. Amendment No. 14 almost replicates amendment No. 13 but, to an extent, goes a little further. I thank him for accepting our argument. In that context, it would be judicious to withdraw amendment No. 13.
“(2)The Court may, upon conviction, order any thing that in the opinion of the court was used for the purpose of the commission of an offence under this Act to be forfeited to the Minister and either destroyed or disposed of in such manner as the Minister may determine.”.
This amendment is self-explanatory. We are trying to ensure that “no person may be tried on indictment for an offence under this Act consisting solely of a contravention of regulations made under this Act”. The amendment expresses our concern that serious offences could be set out by regulation rather than in primary legislation. If an offence can be tried by jury, it should be provided for in primary legislation, not by regulation.
Mr. Dardis: I agree with Senator O'Meara's comments and I noted the Minister's earlier remarks in respect of how some of these matters should be dealt with. What is provided for in amendment No. 14 is prudent and correct. However, it should be emphasised lest there is doubt – the Minister would not suggest there is doubt about it – that many of these matters are serious, such as tampering with ear tags and other improprieties that can occur. It would be possible for somebody to infer – I am not saying the Minister would suggest this, indeed it is not suggested – that in some ways the penalties were being ameliorated, which they are not. It is critical that the penalties reflect the scale of the offences.
That is not to detract from Senator O'Meara's remarks. I do not disagree that they should be provided for in primary legislation, not by way of regulation. Nevertheless, it could be construed that there is some weakening of resolve and that is not the case. The distinction has been drawn with regard to what might be seen as technical errors in respect of, for example, how applications are made and so forth, and the Minister and his Department are well aware of that, given their experience of other schemes. However, given the critical central importance of assuring the quality of our food, it must be emphasised that penalties must be severe and must be implemented.
There was an attitude on the part of the farming organisations that penalties were too severe. This appeared to be due to a misunderstanding. It is only in certain cases involving indictment where there would be severe penalties. It would not be correct to say that penalties should be diminished. It is central to the national interest  that these matters be regulated and, in the absence of compliance with the regulations, there should be a penalty. However, that does not detract from Senator O'Meara's overall point which is correct, that it should be provided for in primary legislation rather than by regulation.
Mr. Quinn: I wish to voice my support. It is a pity that we must do this but one should consider the failure over the years to solve these problems, particularly to deal with the cowboys – that is probably the wrong word to use in an agricultural context – in this business who have caused damage to, for example, the efforts to address TB and other problems. They have damaged the business, particularly the beef business. It is necessary to have the strength and power to deal with them. I support the tenor of what is attempted in this. We must not send the message that we are relaxing. The Minister must have power and I hope this legislation will give it to him. Senator O'Meara makes a strong case, one which had to be made.
Mr. Joe Walsh: Amendment No. 15 aims to exclude as indictable offences those consisting of a contravention of the regulations made under the Bill. Amendment No. 18 would have a similar effect. Under the animal remedies legislation, there are almost stricter regulations about animal feed than about human food. We must be ultra careful about food for human consumption and ensure it contains no harmful residues of any type. People who perpetrate serious offences in the production or processing of food must be taken seriously – there can be no half measure. The enabling provisions here will give teeth to the legislation and to exclude offenders from the possibility of prosecution or indictment would reduce substantially the effect of the scheme.
The regulatory powers of the Minister are described in great detail in the legislation. They provide a clear and specific framework for making regulations and include sufficient checks and balances against unwarranted and unnecessary regulations. It would be inappropriate to include a greater level of detail and procedural descriptions in primary legislation. The Office of the Attorney General is satisfied that the current text is appropriately drafted and constitutionally correct.
“27–(1)The jurisdiction conferred on  the Circuit Court by this Act shall be exercised by the judge for the time being assigned to the circuit where the participant concerned resides or carries on business.
(2)The jurisdiction conferred on the District Court by this Act shall be exercised by the Judge for the time being assigned to the District Court area where the participant concerned resides or carries on business.”
Mr. Quinn: I add my words of congratulations to the Senator. I thank the Minister for tabling a similar amendment. I congratulate Senator O'Meara for being astute in tabling this amendment, recognising the need for it and for using her persuasive skills to ensure the Minister listened and responded positively.
Mr. Joe Walsh: I am pleased to accept the intent of the Senator's amendment in amendment No. 17. I hope she will withdraw her amendment in favour of amendment No. 17. I also convey my congratulations to her on a well tabled amendment.
“27.–(1)The jurisdiction conferred on the Circuit Court by this Act shall be exercised by the judge for the time being assigned to the circuit where the participant concerned resides or carries on business.
(2)The jurisdiction conferred on the District Court by this Act shall be exercised by the Judge for the time being assigned to the District Court area where the participant concerned resides or carries on business.”
(b)there has been a contravention (whether by commission or omission) of a regulation made under this Act or under the European Communities Act, 1972 (which applies to the business of a livestock mart) or of a condition attached to the licence.
(b)notify, in writing, the holder of, or applicant for, the licence that he or a person acting on his behalf, may make representations to the Minister in relation to the intended revocation or refusal within 14 days of the date of issue of the notification, and
(3)Where the Minister decides to proceed with the revocation or refusal of a licence under this section, the Mini ster shall, by notice in writing, notify the holder of, or applicant for, the licence–
3B.–(1)If the Minister revokes or refuses to grant a licence, the holder of, or applicant for, the licence may, within 21 days after the date of the service of the notice of the revocation or refusal, appeal to the Circuit Court against the refusal or revocation.
(3)Where, in accordance with subsection (2), the holder of a licence continues to carry on the business of a livestock mart, notwithstanding the revocation, this Act shall continue to apply as if the licence with respect to that mart had not been revoked.
(5)On the hearing of an appeal under this section, the onus of establishing that the provisions of this Act in relation to the granting or continuing in force of a licence have been compiled with shall lie on the person making the appeal.
 (6)The jurisdiction conferred on the Circuit Court by this section shall be exercised by the judge for the time being assigned to the circuit where the person making the appeal resides or carries on business.',
Mr. Joe Walsh: Section 35 currently provides for an increase in the maximum fines and prison terms under the Livestock Marts Act, 1967. The proposed increases are the maximum advised by the Attorney General and are considered necessary to provide for the effective implementation of this Act. Following further consideration and having regard to an EU directive relating, inter alia, to marts, it is now proposed to further amend the Livestock Marts Act, 1967, in relation to the refusal and revocation of licences and prosecutions. The existing procedures for the revocation of licences are very unwieldly and difficult to implement in practice. The procedures include links, statements before each House of Oireachtas and an inquiry which must be conducted by a barrister of ten years standing appointed for that purpose. The proposed new procedures are standard procedures which are in line with those provided for in the National Beef Assurance Bill and in more recently adopted legis lation. The Livestock Marts Act, 1967, does not include powers for the Minister to prosecute offences – a standard provision in all modern legislation. The new procedures will strengthen the regulatory provisions in relation to marts and help to ensure the smooth functioning of the national beef assurance scheme.
In page 23, in line 43, to delete, “column 3 of that Schedule” and substitute “column 3 of that Schedule (as construed by reference to section 47(2) and the Second Schedule to the Abattoirs Act, 1988)”.
Mr. Joe Walsh: The penalties which it is now proposed to increase were already increased under section 47(2) of the Abattoirs Act, 1988. The proposed amendment of section 36 is necessary to take account of the increase of the penalties already made to the 1935 Act under section 47(2) of the Abattoirs Act, 1988. The revised reference is now full and in order. The table in the Third Schedule must also be amended to take account of the changes under the 1998 Act.
Mr. Joe Walsh: These are textual amendments. The First Schedule lists the classes of persons and classes of holdings or premises to whom the Act applies. These persons, premises and holdings are referred to as “participants”. The proposed amendment is being put forward by the Government in response to representations from the feedingstuffs trade. They have stated that as they are generally large undertakings it would be more appropriate to list them as holdings or premises under section 2 of the Schedule. There are no legal implications arising from this change. The amendment proposed necessitates a further grammatical change to the preceding phrase in that the full stop after “meat plants” should be replaced by a semicolon. Semicolons are hardly used nowadays, which is a pity as they were very much a part of early literature. I am sure it is not necessary to introduce a formal amendment on  this point; perhaps the Clerk of the House could take note of that.
Dr. Henry: Will this amendment diminish in any way the responsibility of manufacturers or traders in feedingstuffs given this is one of the areas we have run into the greatest trouble with BSE? I am constantly astonished when I hear a five year old cow has been diagnosed with BSE. Offal in feedingstuffs was banned in 1990 and cattle are now being fed poultry meal, pig meal or whatever. Such infected products are not all coming from across the Border. When I have raised this matter repeatedly, some people have looked at me as if I am acting against the national interest, but this is a very serious matter. As far as I am aware, notions of vertical transmission are rare, if not totally eliminated. Therefore we must conclude the incidence of BSE that is arising must come from infected animal foodstuffs. Will this amendment diminish in any way the responsibility of manufacturers or traders in feedingstuffs? I am not sure I am enthusiastic about this amendment. Such manufacturers and traders have an enormous responsibility.
This problem does not relate only to the incidence of BSE, there is also the use of antibiotics as growth promoters – a matter I have raised before in this House. I am aware such antibiotics are not supposed to be in animal feedingstuffs, but how are residues found in products they are not supposed to be in? There has been a development of resistant bacteria and appalling bacteria, such as e.coli 0157, in respect of which the presence of antibiotics in feed may be extremely important. As far as I am aware, we do not know how this has arisen.
I was interested to hear the Minister say the two amendments were tabled as a result of representations from the manufacturers. I wonder if this amendment will weaken their responsibility. They have had a great deal of responsibility for the production of food which led to the dreadful BSE problem in the first instance. Therefore, I am not enthusiastic about anything that would reduce their responsibility in this area.
Mr. Dardis: I am sure the meat plants will be interested to know that they have not come to a full stop but rather a semicolon. I have a concern about this amendment, which I want to bring to the Minister's attention. I do not disagree with what he is attempting to do and I understand that if we want to be consistent manufacturers and traders should be grouped with abattoirs and assembly centres or marts. However, I am worried that a manufacturer, who is a sole trader, could be exempt from whatever penalties might accrue and that they may not be covered by the Bill. It would be better, from the point of view of  consistency, to list traders and manufacturers with the other categories, but I am worried that a sole trader who assembles feedingstuffs on his own premises could fall through the net.
Mr. Joe Walsh: I acknowledge the concerns expressed and I want to allay Senators' fears. This is a matter of including feedstuff companies, corporate bodies or sole traders under the Second Schedule rather than the First Schedule. It does not make any difference to the legal position and the corporate body or sole trader remains unchanged. Our regulations for feedstuffs are more stringent than for the human food chain. Inspections, monitoring and audits are carried out on animal feedstuffs. We are particularly careful to ensure no cross-contamination between poultry feed and ruminant feed. They cannot be manufactured in the same building.
Mr. Joe Walsh: That is untrue. I will send the Senator a copy of the age profiles which is interesting. I am familiar with them because I discussed them last week with Dr. Colm Gaynor, the chief veterinary officer.
We expected this problem to peter out from this year onwards, but we still get sporadic incidents. I am talking about 70 cattle out of eight million, which is a very low incidence. Since regulations on animal feed were introduced from 1995 onwards, one would expect that animals born after that date should not be exposed to recycled material and harmful feedstuffs. We do not have enough basic research on BSE. The experts tell us its route is through feedstuffs, but they are not definite about it. Our research is not comprehensive and is dependent on international papers. The age profile of animals identified as having BSE is getting older all the time. As they are culled or die off, in the next two years we should be completely free of the disease. It causes enormous problems of confidence among consumers and in the marketplace when we try to export. I reassure Senators that this amendment makes no difference.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 24, 27, 31, 33 and 35 form a cognate proposal and are related to the cognate group of amendments Nos. 25, 28, 32, 34 and 36. Amendments Nos. 24, 25, 27, 28 and 31 to 36, inclusive, can be discussed together.
Mr. Joe Walsh: These amendments are necessary to take account of the coming into force of two new statutory instruments since the publication of the Bill. The Bovine Tuberculosis (Attestation of the State and General Provisions) Order, 1999 (S.I. No. 277 of 1999), provides for revised arrangements for the identification of bovine animals by requiring the attachment of specified ear tags to the animals within 30 days of birth up to 31 December 1999 and within 20 days of birth after 1 January 2000 and, in any event, before they are moved from the holding of birth. It also provides for arrangements for replacement ear tags and associated measures relating to cattle identification. The European Communities (Identification and Registration of Bovine Animals) Regulations, 1999 (S.I. No. 276 of 1999) relate to the completion of passports for cattle and the maintenance of registers. These regulations give further effect to Council Regulation EC No. 820 of 97 and related Commission regulations in so far as they specify the detailed arrangements relating to applications for the issue and completion of passports for cattle and the maintenance of herd registers. They also provide for the detention and disposal of cattle in certain circumstances and for related matters. Such legislation imposes obligations on all participants except manufacturers or traders of feedingstuffs. Amendments Nos. 26, 29 and 30 relate to a regulation on the marketing of feedstuffs and is being deleted from Parts I, II and III of the Second Schedule as it is no longer applicable.
Our cattle must be registered at birth and have a passport throughout their life. There is a comprehensive traceability system from farm to farm, from the farm to the mart and to the factory. It imposes hardship and difficulties on farmers and producers, but it is necessary, particularly when we have a high reputation for food. Overseas supermarket chains come to Ireland to visit our plants and farms to ensure this system is operational. Much of this work is done in Bandon and the office has regular visits from foreign companies and veterinary inspectors from different countries. They are satisfied we have a top class traceability system.
Mr. Joe Walsh: Amendments Nos. 26, 29 and 30 are proposed by the Government to the Second Schedule. A regulation on the marketing of feedstuffs is being deleted from Parts I, II and III of the Second Schedule and is no longer deemed necessary.
|Ref. No.(1)||Sections of Slaughter of Animals Act 1935(2)||Penalty(3)||Increased Penalty(4)|
|1.||9(3)||a fine not exceeding £500.||a fine not exceeding £1,500.|
|2.||12(2), 13(2), 20(3)||a fine not exceeding £500.||a fine not exceeding £1,500.|
|3.||14(2), 15(3)||a fine not exceeding £500.||a fine not exceeding £1,500.|
|4.||19(2), 28(3) (d)||a fine not exceeding £500 or, at the discretion of the Court, imprisonment for any term not exceeding three months.||a fine not exceeding £1,500 or, at the discretion of the Court, imprisonment for any term not exceeding six months.|
|5.||29(2)||a fine not exceeding £500.||a fine not exceeding £1,500.|
|6.||30||a fine not exceeding £500 or, at the discretion of the Court, imprisonment for any term not exceeding six months.||a fine not exceeding £1,500 or, at the discretion of the Court, imprisonment for any term not exceeding twelve months.|
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Joe Walsh): I stated earlier that I like to bring legislation to this House as often as possible, partly for the sentimental reason that I used to be a Member of this House. One never knows when I might be here again, although I will not say on what panel, it might upset too many people.
On a serious note, the summer recess provided an important opportunity for individuals and organisations to discuss this legislation. Many people have discussed the details of the Bill at length with me and the Department's officials. The initiation of the Bill in this House gave it a public profile and ensured interested parties had a platform on which to consider its provisions during recent months. The discussion in this House has been fruitful and the Bill has been enhanced and strengthened as a result of the amendments made. It was very clear from the quality of the debate that Members had done their homework and were committed to the aims of the legislation. While I have not accepted all the amendments tabled, I have considered each one carefully and I have drawn on those which  were amenable to insertion in the Bill, either on practical or legal grounds. I would like to think I have accommodated Members to the fullest extent possible.
The Bill places the national beef assurance scheme on a statutory footing. The aim of the scheme is to restore consumer confidence in the beef sector in the wake of recent food scares, especially the BSE crisis which was so difficult. The restoration of consumer confidence will be done in two ways. First, the scheme enhances the animal identification and tracing system and will ensure only animals whose origin and identification can be established will be allowed into the human food chain. Second, it will provide guarantees as to the conditions in which cattle and beef are produced. This will be done by the introduction of a system of registration and approval under which only participants which meet the required standards will be allowed to produce cattle and beef. I am confident this broadly based scheme will provide the necessary reassurance to consumers and customers that Irish cattle and beef are produced to the highest standards of hygiene and food safety.
The scheme will also provide valuable assistance to the beef industry and will help it to raise the profile of Irish beef at home and abroad. It is now fully accepted that the development of the Irish beef industry to its full potential is dependent on being able to demonstrate that Irish beef is produced according to the highest standards. The enhancement of the animal tracing system and the provision of an independently backed formal certification and approval status will enable the industry to give credible assurances to consumers about the safety of Irish beef. It will assist it to maintain and increase market share against international competition and will also protect it against uninformed comment and criticism in the face of inevitable food concerns.
I thank my officials who have worked very hard on this legislation over the past year. I also thank the parliamentary draftsman for his invaluable assistance and patience throughout this process. I thank all Members for their contributions and I look forward to bringing the improved Bill to the Dáil without delay.
Mr. T. Hayes: I commend the Minister on the way he has steered this important Bill through the House, listened to the many constructive amendments tabled and accepted some views of Members. It is an important Bill, probably the most important from the point of view of food and agriculture to come before the House during my time here. The introductory notes to the Bill indicate that it stems from the BSE crisis which cost this country financially and in terms of consumer confidence in the food industry. The food and agriculture industry is a vital part of our economy. We hear much about our tiger econ omy but for generations we have lived off the land and its produce. Historically the food industry has played an important part in our development.
It is disappointing to occasionally read media headlines which are not supportive of the food industry. Ireland is a top-class food producer, producing some of the best food in the world. A Bill which helps to prove that is good legislation.
Mr. T. Hayes: I wish to make one point as I was not here on Second Stage and it deeply concerns me. I hope the Minister will listen to it. We consider BSE as being only an Irish problem. In one region of France, a local paper reported a significant number of BSE cases but nobody refers to it being a big problem in France. I am concerned that the BSE crisis did a lot of damage to Ireland and this matter should be raised at the Council of Ministers.
Dr. Henry: I congratulate the Minister and his officials on the Bill. It is splendid and I hope it is enforced rigorously. With the Minister, I was delighted when the Irish EU Commissioner was given responsibility for food safety. It is one of the most important issues affecting Europe. We must persuade people to eat the food. It does not matter how good it is if people do not eat it.
They require far more information about what they eat than those on the other side of the Atlantic. This legislation demonstrates that our produce will be of the highest standard. No matter what legislation is passed, if it is not enforced it is of no use. I hope this legislation will pass quickly through the other House and that the proper funding and staff will be allocated to ensure it is enforced. Nothing is worse than introducing legislation such as this and then finding out in a couple of years that it is not being enforced and it would have been better not to pass it. I hope the Minister will get the funding to implement it.
Ms O'Meara: I also acknowledge the work of the Minister and his officials on this legislation. I thank him for his courtesy at all Stages and his acceptance of some of the suggestions made. From that point of view this debate has been an excellent exercise in co-operation and a good example of the House at its best. The core of this  Bill is consumer confidence in the food industry. We should not under-estimate how difficult it is to restore consumer confidence which has been damaged. Regulation and strict enforcement by the Food Safety Authority are important and we must always be one step ahead of the posse, so to speak. The Minister has granted the necessary powers in this legislation which, coupled with those in other legislation, should be used. We are entering a difficult phase in the worldwide debate on genetically modified foods. This is of huge concern to consumers who are afraid about what they buy and eat. There is a great deal of concern about who will control products and the genetic material in the food we consume and this must be taken on board at all levels.
Mr. R. Kiely: I congratulate the Minister and the staff in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development on introducing this important legislation which will help consumer confidence in the beef industry. Its success will depend on traceability and the computerised cattle movement system. I hope there will be co-operation from everyone in ensuring this is successful. It is important that the computerised cattle movement system, which will trace cattle from the day they are born until they are brought to the table, is operated successfully by all sections of the cattle business. Any legislation introduced to improve quality in the beef industry usually costs farmers extra money. Under this legislation they have to buy tags, unlike previously. It is similar to when the dairy industry was looking for licences and a section of the community tried to put more expense on farmers. I hope the licensing system provided for in this legislation will not result in extra cost for farmers. I welcome the legislation and I hope it receives the co-operation necessary for its success.
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