Calculate climate emissions at point of consumption, farmers say

Farmer ‘get the same milk price today that our parents were getting 30-odds years ago’

The ICMSA has highlighted an inconsistency in the way emissions are calculated: Ireland is held responsible for all its agricultural emissions, even though the majority of what it produces is exported. Oil producing countries are not held accountable for emissions arising from their exported products. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

The ICMSA has highlighted an inconsistency in the way emissions are calculated: Ireland is held responsible for all its agricultural emissions, even though the majority of what it produces is exported. Oil producing countries are not held accountable for emissions arising from their exported products. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Global environmental agencies must change their approach to climate change so carbon emissions are calculated at the point of consumption rather than at production, an Irish farm leader has urged.

ICMSA president, Pat McCormack said the way carbon emissions are calculated by the UN and other bodies is hypocritical and antithetical to the interests of Irish agriculture.

This is because Ireland is held responsible for all emissions resulting from food production even though the majority of agricultural produce, including 90 per cent of Irish beef, is exported.

“We must all play a role on climate change and I believe that farmers will respond but if we are to deal with global change, the current policy direction is just completely wrong,” he told delegates at the ICMSA’s AGM on Friday.

“If we are serious about climate change, food-related emissions should be counted at the point of consumption rather than production – that is the way we do it for oil. Saudi Arabia is not asked to count all emissions from its production.”

Mr McCormack also questioned why oil is deemed more of an environmental “special case” than milk and said a more logical and consistent policy would favour climate efficient agricultural production of the type Ireland can deliver.

He also challenged RTÉ over its coverage of climate change and said he was annoyed and disappointed at the “unbalanced and over-the top nature of some of the programming during climate change week.”

A programme recommending a family in Finglas switch from Irish milk to almond milk on the grounds of lower carbon admissions failed to mention the almond milk was imported from California, he said.

To make such a recommendation, without highlighting the journey that product had to make to reach Irish consumers, while at the same time taking issue over the production of Irish milk which could have come from a farm five miles away, was very suspicious, he said.

Lobbying

He said the ICMSA was over 98 per cent funded by membership fees paid annually by its 14,000 members but all NGOs commenting on diet, food and farming should reveal their sources of income.

“Are some of these NGOs being funded by the corporations busily developing synthetic replacements for natural beef and milk? If they are then, I think we need to know,” he said.

Mr McCormack said historically Irish consumers have not paid enough for quality food over the last few decades and this was evidenced by the fact that farmers are receiving the same price for produce that they did 30 years ago.

“The cheap food policy was only cheap for the consumers because we, the farmers, were carrying them. The cheap food policy was very expensive indeed for us,” he said.

“We get the same milk price today that our parents were getting 30-odds years ago but every single bill we had has quadrupled at least …. Some people are in for a very rude awakening when they realise what the real cost of food is.”

Mr McCormack instanced the example of milk when Irish farmers produced milk below the cost of production for 2016 and were wiped out in income terms for nearly 16-odd months.

“The farmer price fell by over 40 per cent while the consumer price at EU level by about 2 per cent - we were wiped out and the retailers just increased their own margins by 35 per cent,” he said.

Farmer beef prices crashed in 2019 yet the consumer price of beef did not show a corresponding fall and the problem would not be resolved until politicians are willing to confront the large retail chains over the issue.

“And let’s be very clear: our very own processors are part of the problem because rather than standing up to the retailers, they go along with the cheap food policy, take their own margin and then pass back the loss to the farmers.”

Mercosur

Returning to the issue of climate change, Mr McCormack pointed out “the madness” of the current EU deal agreed with the Mercosur countries to allow 100,000 tonnes of South American beef into European Union.

“The deal agreed by the EU Commission is deeply flawed but one fact illustrates this: depending on the outcome of the UK General Election, we may need a new home for 320,000 tonnes of beef that is currently sold to the UK.

“Yet despite this massive Brexit risk, the EU is agreeing to allow in 100,000 tonnes of beef from Mercosur countries to conclude a deal, the very same countries that appear intent on destroying the rainforests.”

“If the EU concludes a deal with the Mercosur states, given that group’s environmental record, then we know with certainty the EU bureaucrats are complete hypocrites and blatantly misleading EU farmers and consumers.

“The contradictions in EU policy are simply mind-boggling and if the EU is to play any role in climate change and the transition to the new reality, then these kinds of contradictions are going to have to be addressed once and for all.

“The only people who wanted a Mercosur deal were the big corporations eager to increase their sales regardless of any other concern. Nor do I want to hear any nonsense about how dairy farmers will benefit,

“ICMSA speaks for Irish dairy farmers and I’m telling you now that we think this is immoral, dangerous and will inflict enormous damage on the EU itself,” he warned.