Farmers warn over EU trade deal for South American beef

‘Rank hypocrisy’ to expect Irish to tackle emissions when meat flown across the world

Under the Government’s Food Wise 2025 plan beef exports are projected to be worth €19bn in six years’ time. File photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Under the Government’s Food Wise 2025 plan beef exports are projected to be worth €19bn in six years’ time. File photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

 

The State’s hopes for a €19 billion beef export sector by 2025 would be scuppered if the EU agrees a free trade deal to import South American beef, farmers’ organisations have claimed.

A free trade deal is being negotiated between the EU and the Mercosur countries – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. But on Monday, Irish farmers’ organisations backed an Oireachtas committee report which warned the State’s plan for the beef sector could be forgotten if the trade deal failed to exclude South American beef.

Under the Government’s Food Wise 2025 plan beef exports are projected to be worth €19 billion in six years’ time. But the Report on the Future of the Beef Sector in the context of Food Wise 2025, published by the Oireachtas agriculture committee on Tuesday found the Mercosur deal could effectively scupper the key growth target.

Farmers warned their opposition was not just protectionism, but claimed it would be impossible to get Irish people to buy into the Government’s green agenda if “less carbon-efficient beef” was flown around the world to Europe from South America under a deal approved by the EU.

At the launch of the report in Leinster House on Tuesday, farming organisations and politicians from across party lines agreed the Taoiseach should be told that the Mercosur free trade deal had no chance of being approved by the Dáil, unless it excluded beef.

Committee chairman Pat Deering of Fine Gael said the importance of the issue would be made known to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture. Mr Deering said the committee was recommending a new EU quality stamp for Irish beef. He said the key challenges for the sector were the Mercosur free trade agreement, the next Common Agricultural Policy and Brexit. He was supported by Charlie McConalogue of Fianna Fáil who said the Taoiseach and Government had to show they were aware of the problems.

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kennysaid a marketing label could do for the sector what “Kerrygold” had done for Irish milk and butter.

Eddie Punch, general secretary of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, said the Taoiseach should be told the Mercosur deal had “no chance of getting across the line at Oireachtas level” unless it excluded beef. He said it was “rank hypocrisy” to expect farmers in Ireland and Europe to plant trees and make sacrifices, if beef with a heavy carbon footprint was flown in from across the world.

IFA National Livestock chairman Angus Woods said the “single biggest challenge in the beef sector is the income crisis at farm level”.

On the lack of competition in the beef sector, Mr Woods said it was disappointing that the committee failed to call on Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed to direct the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to investigate the sector. He said the absence of any recommendation on increased support for suckler cow herds was a missed opportunity, considering that all the political parties have indicated their support for such a move.