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Ferris calls for radical review of Agricultural policy

3 February, 2005

Speaking on a Private Members Bill in the Dáil on Wednesday evening, the Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, outlined some of the elements that need to be addressed as part of a radical review of agricultural policy. Among these are the issue of food quality and safety, and the importance of maintaining Ireland free from GM crops and animal feeds. He also referred to the fall in the share of retail prices going to farmers, to the future of the sugar industry, and to the lack of investment in agricultural research.

Deputy Ferris said: " It would be absolute madness for this country with its agricultural base, and reputation as the producer of high quality food, to open itself up to GM animal feeds and crops. There is no economic argument in favour of it from the point of view of the farmer, and certainly none as far as the consumer is concerned. Another major issue regarding food production is the share of the price paid by the consumer that actually goes to the primary producer. Only this week we have seen farmers protesting against a proposed 10c per gallon cut by Glanbia, and I have cited statistics in the past which show that farmers can get as little as a quarter or even a fifth of the retail price for certain products.

"That is not acceptable, and I have urged farmers to look long and hard again at the structure of the processing sector which has moved a long way from the original ideas of co-operation. Have farmers sacrificed long-term security of income for shares in what are to all intents and purposes agri business corporations over which farmers no longer have any control.

Sinn Féin is opposed to the closure of the Carlow sugar factory, and to any future moves which may threaten the future of the sugar industry in this state. The processing of sugar was for many years an example of a successful state enterprise and it will be a shame if the consequence of privitisation is the closing down of the entire sector.

"Obviously the sugar sector in this country is subject to changes at international level but its entire future cannot be sacrificed as part of whatever trade deals the EU agrees within the World Trade Organisation. Developing countries are entitled to access to EU markets but a strong stand needs to be taken in order to ensure that the workers employed at Mallow and Carlow, and the farmers who supply the plants, are not left to pay the cost.

"I have on several occasions tabled questions and otherwise raised the issue of alternative use of sugar as a renewable energy crop for the production of biofuels. I am aware that Minister Coughlan has stated that this is a commercial matter for Greencore but the state does have a role given that the taxation structure for alternative fuels will be crucial, and that there is a grant of €45 per hectare for energy crops. In reply to a question which I placed regarding this grant, the Minister replied that sugar beet is actually excluded so maybe that is something that might be looked at if there is a possibility of using beet as a source for the production of biofuels.

"One other issue that is vital to the future of Irish agriculture is research and development. I mention this in the context of the series of closures of Teagasc facilities, and the statistics from Forfas which show a marked decline in the level of investment in Agricultural Science at Third Level. According to the Forfas figures, of 2,797 full-time researchers in 2002, a mere 44 were working in agricultural science.

"At a time of massive change, and potential opportunity in the context of the reformed CAP, that is a poor indictment of the emphasis placed on this vital area. It is also an indication that students are aware that Teagasc cuts will mean fewer jobs and indeed we have already seen a number of researchers leaving the country on foot of this.

"Sinn Féin supported the introduction of the Single Farm Payment as part of the Fischler reform of the CAP. Since then, several areas of difficulty have emerged which indicate that not enough thought was put into them when the reform was being drafted and negotiated. Those who were part of the Early Retirement Scheme are one such group which has lost out and there are others. However, I still believe that there is potential under the new regime to allow farmers the opportunity to move forward on the basis of some basic security of income. That will not happen, however, unless more imagination and research is invested in examining the production systems which offer the greatest opportunities, and unless more effort is placed upon integrating those systems with the domestic processing sector to ensure that more of the value of what is produced in this country actually remains here to the benefit of farmers, workers and consumers." ENDS

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