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Gildernew updates Assembly Committee

6 November, 2007

Sinn Féin Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle Gildernew MP MLA, has updated the ASssembly Agriculture and Rural Development Committee on her Department's work.

The focus of her discussions with the committee were on tackling challenges within the red meat sector and fisheries issues. The Minister also provided an update on the UK outbreaks of Bluetongue and Foot and Mouth disease, and the outbreak of Brown rot in the South of Ireland.

In relation to FMD the Minister advised the Committee that DEFRA had lifted the FMD surveillance zone in England and that biosecurity advice to farmers exporting animals to the areas of Britain outside the restricted zone will be relaxed.

On Bluetongue Disease, the Minister emphasised that the industry needed to be aware of DARD guidance on this disease. The Minister outlined how the current requirement to post import test animals from areas free of disease had been extended, to include all animals coming to the North from continental Europe.

Ms Gildernew said:

"I would appeal to farmers and importers to carefully consider their actions if they import cattle and sheep. Bluetongue does not have human health implications, but it does have economic repercussions for farmers and the industry if it becomes established in a country. I hope industry will play their part in keeping this disease out of the North. Advice has already been issued to importers as well as herd and flock owners."

In relation to the wider Departmental brief the Minister emphasised that her key aim is to support thriving rural communities with agriculture at the heart of these communities.

The Minister said: "The publication of the Red Meat Taskforce Report has highlighted a range of issues. This is an issue for all stakeholders, not just DARD and we all need to move forward in a partnership approach to secure the future sustainability of our red meat sector and wider rural communities.

"I do not take from this report that there will be a collapse of the red meat sector, but it clearly points to a range of challenges that all parts of the industry will have to respond to positively. DARD will help farmers who want to diversify or get out of the industry through capability building programmes and appropriate training. The Department already commits significant resources, costing in the region of £50 million per year to support the red meat sector. The Department will look at the relevance of what it is doing and consider redirecting and refocusing such resources, to take account of the Task Force findings, and secure the future sustainability of our red meat industry."

In relation to fisheries issues the Minister highlighted the importance of the Fisheries Council in December.

"The main scientific advice for Irish fish sea stocks has been published and is currently being analysed. In October I met with Commissioner Borg and have also met with fishing industry representatives on this issue. Between now and December we will be working hard on building the scientific and economic case to support our priorities and I will be visiting the fishing ports in early December to discuss our approach to Council directly with local fishermen." ENDS

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