Varadkar’s praise for less meat in diet ‘demonised’ farmers, MEP claims

Kelleher says Taoiseach’s ‘must accept some of the blame’ for climate shaming of sector

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher said: ‘We cannot have a situation whereby one part of society is demonised and left behind.’ File image: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher said: ‘We cannot have a situation whereby one part of society is demonised and left behind.’ File image: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher has accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of helping to “demonise” farmers by extolling the virtues of eating less meat.

Mr Kelleher, himself a farmer, said he welcomed Mr Varadkar’s appeal at a recent agricultural conference for the “climate shaming” of farmers to stop but “he must accept some of the blame”.

The Taoiseach “must... realise that he was one of the people causing the demonisation of farmers with his own throwaway comments on eating less meat”.

In January this year, Mr Varadkar revealed that he was “trying to eat less meat for both health reasons and reasons of climate change” which prompted an angry response from farmers and farm organisation.

Last weekend, Mr Varadkar told over 300 delegates at the ICMSA AGM that while Ireland’s carbon emissions had gone down over the last two years, carbon emissions from farming had regrettably gone up in this period.

“But I very much believe, and I very much want farmers to be part of the solution when it comes to climate change and climate action rather than being targeted as part of the problem as you so often are,” the Taoiseach said.

“And it’s my belief that the climate shaming of farmers should stop and it should stop now. But it’s through visible and effective climate action by farmers, supported by Government that we can make sure that it stops.”

Mr Kelleher said Mr Varadkar’s “newfound realisation that farmers are not the bogeymen when it comes climate change is welcome” despite his earlier remarks about his dietary habits.

Mr Kelleher said farmers recognised that they need to change their practices to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions but a strong and vibrant agricultural sector was vital to the Irish economy and rural communities.

“Yes, there will need to be changes, in how they bring their produce to market but it is clear as night follows day that without a strong agricultural sector, many rural communities would face devastation economically.”

Mr Kelleher added he hoped Mr Varadkar would work with farmers to help them diversify.

“Whatever transition takes place towards a low carbon economy must be a just transition. We cannot have a situation whereby one part of society is demonised and left behind. That is not the way we do things in Ireland. ”