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 Header Item Common Agricultural Policy Reform: Statements (Continued)
 Header Item Interim Report on Equine DNA-Mislabelling of Processed Meat: Statements

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 796 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Willie Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose] A person on social welfare payments receives €188 per week and spends every cent of it. Likewise, farmers spend every cent of their incomes. This is extremely important for the rural economy. However, there is a need for change. There must be a significant effort towards redistribution in order to ensure farmers who either receive small payments per hectare or none at all will enjoy an increase. On behalf of the Labour Party, I unreservedly support the efforts at redistribution which recognise these farmers who, as previous speakers indicated, own 30 acres or less. These individuals require a more substantial share of the money on offer in order that they might continue to farm properly and make a contribution to the agricultural economy.

  The farmers to whom I refer are also important in the context of their contribution to our achieving the goals relating to Food Harvest 2020. Some farming organisations tried to write these farmers out of the equation. Those with 35 or 40 hectares of land must work extremely hard and are very productive. Who do the farming organisations think they are in suggesting the exclusion of these individuals who are the bedrock of the farming community? Not everybody has 100 or 200 acres. I come from a county in which there is substantial acreage of farmland. Those involved in agriculture in places such as Rathowen, Ballinacargy, Milltown, Loughanavalley, Ballinea and Walshestown in County Westmeath are all small farmers who are struggling. They have all raised families, put their children through college, etc. on the incomes they made from their farms. I am amazed at the attitude of no surrender adopted by some of the farming organisations which seem to be preoccupied with the retention of significantly large payments for the benefit of the few, rather than focusing on the construction of a redistribution model which would jettison and reject regionalisation proposals which should be non-runners because they would cause damage.

  Farmers across my constituency and further afield have outlined their views to me on this matter. I have a proud record of fearlessly representing the interests and views of farmers who, in turn, have been faithful in their loyal support for me during the years. I recall being the subject of significantly adverse comment when I wholeheartedly supported decoupling proposals in the 1990s. However, that is a matter for another day. No matter what I said on behalf of the Labour Party at the time, it was not reported. My comments were judiciously kept out of the media and I know why that was the case. In negotiations I tried to ensure any change in payments would be to the benefit of those who most deserved it. One cannot speak out of both sides of one's mouth. I am clearly in favour of the sentiments expressed by representatives of farmers in the western counties in the farming section of the Irish Independent on Tuesday last.

  Lest there be any doubt of where my Labour Party colleagues and I stand on this issue, we would not favour under any circumstances a policy which would favour the preservation or promotion of the interests of large, rancher style farmers. Their activities will have what is termed a "supermarket effect" and give rise to a significant drop in the actual number of farmers. This is the very antithesis of a policy objective based on equity and fairness. Ultimately, it would lead to the complete demise of farming in rural areas and the rural economy. We in the Labour Party want special provision to be made for young farmers and new entrants. It is vital that we take proactive steps to ensure we facilitate young people interested in taking up the profession of farming.

  I support the Minister's stance, as I understand it, in seeking to have a green element included in future single farm payments, which would represent a percentage of their existing payments, rather than what is proposed by the European Commission. I also understand what he is doing in trying to achieve additional flexibility in the implementation of the greening proposals. However, approximately 250 farmers are in receipt of well over €100,000 each, while the remaining 80% receive average payments of €15,000 or less. That is why, in the interests of equity, justice and fairness and in accordance with the original objectives of the scheme, there must be a frontloading of the payments on the first 33 or 35 hectares, with the proviso that some level of agricultural activity was taking place on the land. I agree with Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív in that regard and it is something in favour of which I have always argued. There must be some recognisable level of activity taking place. One cannot merely look out on one's land and do nothing with it. It cannot be the case that vast areas of good land are left idle. Such activity can relate to forage acres, stocking rates, etc.

  What I have outlined completely negates the argument made by one of the farming organisation to the effect that what is proposed only favours those who engage in cattle farming as a hobby. That argument was made out of the blue. How can anyone justify certain individuals receiving single farm payments of €100,000, €200,000 or €250,000 per year? We in the Labour Party believe it is time to introduce a cap on what a person can receive - perhaps €50,000 or €60,000 - by way of single farm payments. This may have to be done by way of transition payments. Fairness in the distribution of single farm payments is the cornerstone of Labour Party policy.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Tom Hayes): Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes I apologise for interrupting, but we have exceeded the time allocated for this matter. I ask the Deputy to propose the adjournment of the debate.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív Will we be returning to this matter?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Tom Hayes): Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes Yes.

Deputy Willie Penrose: Information on Willie Penrose Zoom on Willie Penrose Will it definitely be the subject of further discussion?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Yes. I hope to return to it either next week or the week after.

Interim Report on Equine DNA-Mislabelling of Processed Meat: Statements

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I apologise for the fact that Opposition spokespersons did not receive the interim report a little earlier. When I briefed them yesterday, I stated they would receive copies by 11 a.m. today. However, it took a little longer to distribute them. This was because we were obliged to make some changes.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Where are our copies?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney They have literally just come off the presses. I will have copies distributed to Members immediately.

Two months ago to the day - 14 January - my Department was first informed by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, of its finding of 29% equine DNA in a single beef burger sold in Tesco and manufactured at the Silvercrest plant in County Monaghan. This finding in the FSAI meat authenticity survey resulted in the immediate launching of an official investigation by my Department. This investigation, initially involving the FSAI and my Department's veterinary inspectorate and audit team, was broadened to include the Department's special investigation unit and the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. On 5 February I appeared before the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I gave a detailed statement to the committee and both Professor Alan Reilly of the FSAI and I answered many questions on a series of matters. The controversy has moved on considerably since that date and meat products have been withdrawn in many countries. The disclosure In Ireland of the adulteration of beef products with equine DNA has prompted other authorities to examine the issue. It transpired that what had been uncovered was a pan-European problem of fraudulent mislabelling of certain beef products. Some 26 of the 27 member states of the European Union have now been affected by the problem which has also been uncovered outside the European Union. It became a global problem, affecting some large global companies and international food brands.

Today, I am publishing a report on the official investigation and related matters. It will demonstrate both the complexity of the problem uncovered and the thoroughness with which it was approached. I propose to refer to three main areas, but before I do so I wish to clearly state consumer confidence and trust are the most vital components of our policy on the wider food industry. Without consumer confidence and trust, there is no future for any of the participants in the food supply chain, regardless of whether they are retailers, processors, traders or primary producers. There is a clear onus on all participants to ensure safe and quality food products are placed on the market. Ireland's reputation as a food producing country rests on all participants fulfilling this responsibility. Any potential risk to that reputation, albeit in a relatively small segment of the food sector, was the basis for the immediate launching of the official investigation and the actions I have taken in the course thereof.

I wish to highlight a number of points. The equine DNA found in consignments of frozen beef products was labelled to be of Polish origin. The investigation has not found any evidence of adulteration with horsemeat of these consignments in Ireland, but, following our enquiries, there are clear concerns about the activities of traders and intermediaries operating outside the State. Information uncovered in the investigation has been passed to the appropriate authorities and Europol. We are also working with other member states in this regard. That is not to suggest intermediaries in the supply chain were the sole cause of the problem. The investigation has also shown direct trade with Poland. One Polish company the product of which was found positive for equine DNA arranged to collect the consignment and reimburse the Irish operator, QK Meats.

Details of the investigation outcome in respect of the main companies involved are provided in the report.

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