Dáil Éireann - Volume 507 - 01 July, 1999

Other Questions. - Cattle Identification Tags.

7. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans, if any, he has to liberalise the cattle tag supplier market in view of the fact that the monopoly given to a co-op (details supplied) as the distributors of allflex tags is uncompetitive and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16933/99]

Mr. Walsh: The present position is that Eurotags, Mullinahone Co-op, was appointed as the sole supplier of approved cattle ear tags in respect of 1999 on foot of an open tendering competition conducted under national and EU procurement rules. In accordance with the terms and conditions specified in the tendering documentation issued by my Department, the contract with Eurotags covers the period 1 January 1999 to 31 December 1999 with the possibility of an extension for a maximum of two further years.

The supply arrangements for cattle ear tags to apply in respect of the post 1 January 2000 period is currently under review. The matter was recently discussed with the main farming organisations, the views of which will be taken into account in deciding the approach to be taken. On the issue of the open tendering process under EU rules, people are welcome to examine the entire documentation relating to the process under the Freedom of Information Act. All departmental tender processes are operated in a fair, equitable, open and transparent manner.

Mr. Connaughton: The new tags must appear on both ears and I have heard more complaints than ever from farmers in regard to tags falling off. Surely, we can do better than that in view of the technology which is available. Will the Minister look into the matter?

Mr. Walsh: The Deputy's point is a valid one. As a result of the number of complaints received in the Department, a survey was carried out on the matter. The survey revealed that 3.7 per cent of cattle had lost one of the large tags, 5.2 per cent had lost one of the button tags and 0.7 per [838] cent had lost both tags. People experience difficulties in regard to premia payments and getting animals into factories if tags are lost. We are constantly seeking to improve the tagging system, particularly in regard to the application of tags which should be properly secured. The loss rate for the brass ear tags was in the region of 4 per cent and resulted in that percentage of animals having to be reidentified which caused a great deal of trouble to farmers. We are working on the matter and, hopefully, there will be a breakthrough in the technology.

Mr. Ring: I do not doubt that the company in question was awarded the contract on fair grounds. Would it be possible to have two or three agencies throughout the country rather than having one agent dealing with the entire system? I have met farmers who have had to wait for many weeks to get tags. Would it be possible to divide the country into regions – along the lines of the European election constituencies – in order that farmers would not have to wait so long?

Mr. Walsh: The matter is being reviewed. I believe Mullinahone is doing a good job. Nine tenders were received in the first period. In 1998 under national and EU procurement rules eight firms submitted tenders. The Mullinahone tender was the most competitive. From the Department's perspective, there are advantages in a single supplier arrangement which is easier to control from an administrative point of view. There have been control problems in the past. There have also been problems in other member states. There was a time when one only had to open the boot of a car in certain locations to obtain as many tags as one wanted. We do not want to return to that position. The Mullinahone firm is doing an excellent job in this regard. The matter is being reviewed with the social partners.