I am pleased to speak on the Bill, which I welcome. It brings clarity to issues that arose following the 2005 Act, where farmers and even vets could be prosecuted. I compliment the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on its common sense approach to practices taking place on farms at the time.
I wish to speak on the operation of vets and the administration of veterinary drugs in the equine sector. With Goffs in the news this week, most people are well aware that the equine sector is a major employer of people in this country, with approximately 17,000 people involved in the sector. This year, 6,500 thoroughbred foals have been registered. In addition, there are approximately 1,000 non-registered thoroughbred foals as well as the foals born in the sport horse sector. Approximately 50% of the registered thoroughbred foals will end up racing. One could ask what happens to the other 50%. It is sad, but we must talk about the fact that many of those animals end up being slaughtered. Horse meat is a valuable export, in particular to continental Europe. The French market for Irish slaughtered horses is considerable.
The drugs administered by vets for the cure of ailments in the equine sector are not licensed. There is a requirement relating to minimum residue levels but because the equine sector is such a small part of the veterinary-pharmaceutical industry, time is not taken to do testing on the drugs used. As a result, there has been a derogation from the Commission on the administration of veterinary drugs used in the equine sector. That means there is no withdrawal period for most of the drugs. Consequently, when vets administer drugs to horses they stamp the animal’s passport as “Not fit for human consumption” which affects the livelihoods of those involved in the horse breeding sector whose horses do not end up on the racecourse and cannot be used for their intended purpose.
There is no licence for the drugs used in this area. Perhaps the Minister could examine the matter and address it in the regulations under the Bill or by some other means. The meat from a horse whose passport is stamped “Not fit for human consumption” can only be used as dog food. Both Deputy John Paul Phelan and I have equine slaughtering facilities in our constituencies which are at capacity in recent years due to the downturn in the economy. The people who own the horses end up getting either a nominal fee or may have to pay for the animal to be slaughtered themselves. Breeders suffer a loss of earnings as a result.
The horses to which I refer are not bred for slaughter but for the racetrack. One should consider the statistics involved: of the 7,000 thoroughbred foals born this year, only seven will win a group 1 race. Only 3,500 will make it to a racetrack, which means 3,500 thoroughbred foals will end up being slaughtered before they reach their potential. The sad part for the sector is that breeders have potential to earn much more if the stamp “Not fit for human consumption” were to be removed from the passport. Horse meat could be a valuable export for this country. I hope the Minister will examine the regulations. The Bill improves the way in which livestock is looked after. It will also ensure that Irish produce is the envy of the world because of its quality. I would like to see an opportunity for us to export horsemeat for human consumption on the Continent.