Farmers seek urgent meeting with Taoiseach over ‘sellout’ Mercosur deal

EU pulling the rug from under the beef sector, Irish Farmers’ Association says

Irish Farmers' Association (IFA)president Joe Healy has sought an urgent meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar over the "sell-out deal" negotiated between the EU and the Mercosur group of countries on trade including beef.

While the Taoiseach had acknowledged the deal would be bad for beef farmers, he "cannot be complicit in facilitating the EU in pulling the rug from under the beef sector to suit the big powerful car sectors in Germany and some other countries", Mr Healy said.

The trade deal due to come into force in eight years time was bad for farmers throughout the EU, he said. "The Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed must stand up and fight for beef farmers at European level," he added – the Government is carry out an economic assessment of the biggest trade deal ever agreed by the EU.

Irish farmers were meeting traceability standards, fully supporting quality assurance schemes and meeting environmental requirements, all of which led to increased costs of production, Mr Healy said.


There are also devastating implications for the poultry sector with the Mercosur deal “giving market access to sub-standard poultry meat onto the EU market”, he predicted

IFA national livestock chairman Angus Woods noted the €3 billion beef sector was much more important to Ireland than any other EU member state while the EU Commission Joint Research Centre had calculated the impact of trade deals on the EU beef sector including Mercosur would cost up to €7 billion a year."We cannot allow our vital national interest in beef to be ruined by Brazilian beef imports."

The Mercosur deal would have “devastating consequences for the climate and Irish farming”, according to the Green Party. “It opens an already saturated EU market to more beef imports, from countries where agriculture is a main cause of deforestation, while favouring the export of EU cars,” said spokeswoman on agriculture and food Pippa Hackett.

The deal revealed how vulnerable Ireland’s farming sector had become. A radical overhaul of agri-food policies, “where the environmental must be to the fore to future-proof our family farms” was needed, she added.

“Regrettably Irish beef producers are in a particularly weak position. Poor agri-food policies from successive governments, intent on following a model of commodity beef production for global markets, now sees us very exposed, with low beef prices, pressure from Brexit, and now this additional threat from the Mercosur trade deal.”

Suckler farming in Ireland was dominated by small family-owned farms, and it was simply not sustainable to pitch small-scale famers against global giants. “Irish beef should be secure as a niche, high quality, high demand product, and this Mercusor deal should have no effect whatsoever,” she said.

“A viable solution is needed, and simply demanding increases in factory price, or relying on bail outs from our taxpayers is short-sighted, and not a long-term answer. Premium-paying consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how their food is produced and where it comes from, and they are demanding better environmental outcomes and improved animal welfare.”

At present, most consumers have no way of knowing if the beef they buy in their supermarket was pasture reared or grain fed, from a high biodiversity farm, reared by its dam, from a factory feedlot, moved multiple times from farm to farm, or how far it had to travel to be slaughtered, she said. “They all carry the same Bord Bia QA logo.”

If environmental issues were addressed, then the price would follow. “It’s time the suckler beef sector has a radical overhaul – from how we produce it, how we market it, and how we get it to the consumer. Not only will farmers reduce input costs as they move away from a reliance on synthetic inputs and high production costs, they will produce a better-quality product in the eyes of consumers, and one which will command a higher price.”

Substantial change was required in how taxpayers' money was spent on the agri-environmental schemes. "If farmers can see the tangible benefits of farming closer with nature, then there is every chance they will continue to farm in this way. The current system is clearly not working for our farmers, so it's time for change," Ms Hackett said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times