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Ó Caoláin calls for compensation for producers and processors of pork and bacon products

9 December, 2008 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has called for full compensation for producers and processors of pork and bacon products who are facing financial ruin due to the current pig meat crisis. Speaking in the Dáil today Deputy Ó Caoláin said the crisis has already had a major impact in Cavan and Monaghan.

He said, "Pig production remains an important part of farming and processing in Cavan and Monaghan, so the Minister will know that there is great local concern about the current crisis, apart from its national implications. The crisis has already had a major impact, with 140 people put on protective notice at McCarren Meats in Cavan and a further 50 workers temporarily laid off at Feldhues in Clones. There have also been layoffs at the Rosderra Meats plant at Stradone. There were announcements of further layoffs this morning at plants elsewhere in the country, bringing the total number of workers laid off in the sector to around 2,000.

"Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal contain the main source of pigs that are sent to processors across the Border, which highlights the all-Ireland aspect of this problem. The Sinn Féin Minister in the Northern Executive, Ms Michelle Gildernew MLA, has overseen the response to the crisis in the Six Counties. We have been advised that eight beef farms were identified as having used the contaminated feed, and that the relevant restrictions were imposed on them. No pig farms in the Six Counties received supplies of the contaminated feed. The food safety authorities in the Six Counties are satisfied that the levels of contamination in the affected beef herds are below that which would pose any risk to human health. Therefore, there will be no need to impose restrictions there, and we have noted the same assurances here today regarding the relevant beef herds in this State.

"There are many concerns for producers, processors and those who are involved in the preparation of high added value products dependent on pork and bacon. What compensation will these groups receive? Who will pay for the significant losses that each of the groups has suffered? Who will be paid? Can the Minister give assurances that each of those groups, an integral part of the overall industry, will be fully recognised, respected and compensated? People are facing absolute ruin if there is no urgency adopted by the Government in indicating the necessary assurances that compensation will be secured, either from the EU or from ourselves if we have to stand alone on this. Many of these groups are currently distressed and in need of cash, especially in the run up to Christmas, due to the demands of creditors and a need for cashflow to sustain their businesses. Will any approach be made to the Irish financial institutions to put together a package that will address the needs of this sector during the current crisis? Access to funds at this stage is critical to the survival of many of those groups I have described.

"Can the Minister not also note that while empty shelves are bad enough, it is probably only a matter of hours rather than days before we will see foreign pork and bacon produce on Irish shelves in supermarkets throughout this State?

"While it will be hard to try to reintroduce Irish produce to the shelves, its displacement by foreign produce will make it even more difficult. It is clear that some Irish companies will fold as a consequence of all of this. The critical objective is not just to see pork and bacon products back on the shelves, accompanied by consumer confidence and all the necessary assurances, but to ensure that Irish pork and bacon products are back on the shelves without delay.

"The House deserves to know what action will be taken against the supplier of the contaminated feed. Is it the case that plastic coverings were not removed from pans and loaves of bread that were used in the processing of animal feed? That question should be answered in the House this afternoon so there is no further uncertainty. If it is the case, what danger does it present for animals and for the consumer, who is the end user? To what extent can the Minister be certain that others in this business are not also involved in unacceptable bad practices? What steps are being taken to examine the activities of others who have the same supply role as the producer of feed in this case? I ask the Minister to make it clear in his response to Deputies that, arising from this tragic experience, he intends to ensure that from this day forward, nothing other than best practice will be accepted and the necessary inspections and guarantees, etc., will be in place." ENDS

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