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28 January 2009: Minister Smith launches Animal Health Ireland and attends inaugural meeting of stakeholders group

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr Brendan Smith TD today formally launched Animal Health Ireland (AHI), which aims to improve overall animal health standards and thereby secure improved profitability for farmers and international competitiveness of livestock products through a coordinated national approach to animal health.

Minister Smith said that today's launch represented the results of extensive discussions held with the various industry stakeholders within the agri-food industry, in particular primary producers, food processors and service providers. He confirmed that from these discussions, it was clear there was a genuine commitment by all interested parties to work together on an initiative to address a range of animal health and related issues so as to enhance, in a co-ordinated way, the quality of Irish farm and processor outputs and improve animal health.

The initiative also gives effect to a commitment in the Programme for Government to introduce a Herd Health Initiative to deal with non-regulated diseases and conditions and is modelled on international examples of success in animal health, but adapted to Irish conditions. It will complement the existing animal health programmes for regulated diseases and focus on non-regulated animal health issues. While the initial focus is likely to be on bovine diseases such as Johnes, IBR, BVD, lameness, mastitis and infertility, the model can equally apply to issues affecting other species.

The Minister said that there was general agreement among stakeholders that a body - to be known as Animal Health Ireland - was needed to drive the initiative and that this body should be overseen by a Steering Group selected on the basis of competencies. In turn, that Group would be overseen by a Stakeholders Group comprising representatives of the organisations that among other things will be co-financing the initiative.

The Minister said that the health status of the national herd now and in the future will be a critical element in assisting farmers to add value to farm incomes and allowing Irish food products to remain competitive in a world trading environment. He added that he believed that "animal health and food safety will be critical contributors to international competitiveness both as a result of the impact - perceived or otherwise - of animal diseases on product quality and safety and also because of the special importance that animal health and food safety have in international trade. We have many examples of the actual and potential problems that arise from food safety issues including most recently from the dioxin issue. And of course, high animal health is a major contributor to optimal efficiency and profitability as farm level".

Minister Smith said that Animal Health Ireland will be driven and part-financed by industry with Government support. This approach represented a substantial departure from the classic current Government-led model to animal health and will require all stakeholders to engage in this new paradigm from non-traditional positions. What differentiated this initiative from others is the lead role that will be taken by the industry and the buy-in through firm financial commitments from the Stakeholder bodies without which this idea would not have got off the ground in the first instance. "We have now developed what I consider to be an innovative model in Animal Health Ireland where roles and responsibilities particularly the financial responsibilities are clear. Its success will depend on the willingness of all stakeholders to engage with each other from non-traditional positions in pursuit of common goals" the Minister said.

The Minister confirmed that his Department will meet some initial costs and will provide a small number of Executive staff to assist the interim Steering Group of AHI, the membership of which was announced in November last to manage Animal Health Ireland. The Minister also confirmed that the inaugural meeting of the Stakeholder Group comprising the founding stakeholders who have financed the initiative also took place today. This Group will now embark on developing and coordinating a national infrastructure that will enable industry at all levels to take appropriate and effective action in relation to non-regulated diseases.

The Animal Health Ireland initiative provides an opportunity to build on the significant resources and capabilities and expertise already available within a range of organisations. It also provides an opportunity for the dissemination of high-quality technical information, which will assist the decision-making process particularly for industry.

28 January, 2009

Notes for Editors

1. The Stakeholders Group includes representatives from the following:
An Bord Bia
Carbery Group
Connacht Gold
Dairygold
Glanbia
ICOS
ICBF
IFA
ICMSA
Kerry Group
Lakeland
Macra
Teagasc
Veterinary Ireland

2. The membership of the interim Steering Group is as follows:
Mike Magan (Chairman), Dairy Farmer
Gerard Brickley, An Bord Bia
Joe Collins, The Irish Dairy Board
Michael Doherty, UCD School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine
Thia Hennessy, Teagasc
John O'Sullivan, Dairy Farmer,
Robin Talbot, Beef Farmer,

Date Released: 28 January 2009