Climate change will cause ‘big changes in diet’, says President Higgins

Speaking at Ploughing Championships, Higgins criticises market-led farming and food production industry in Europe

President Michael D Higgins has said there is “no doubt whatsoever” that there will be “big changes” in diet arising from climate change and cost of living pressures.

Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Co Laois, Mr Higgins said agriculture and food production should be embedded in a social model and “not in an economic model that is narrowly focused in relation to price inducement”.

“Everybody is going to have to change,” he said, outlining that consumers under “grave pressure” due to the cost of living crisis would have to adjust from a “cheap food policy where you have artificially reduced prices”.

He said the change was of a scale that meant it could not be simplified to consumer choices but that “there is no doubt whatsoever I think that you are going to see big changes in diet”.


The President criticised the structure of the agriculture and food production industry in Europe, including of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the “assumptions and the thinking behind it”. He said that farmers have “relied on market inducement to do everything they’re doing”.

“They have been promoted and pushed in certain directions by the European Commission at certain times, and you cannot say that this is suddenly over. You will have to in fact manage the transition,” he said, outlining how there had to be compensation for farmers affected by climate change.

“If you are going to have farming families, for example, moving into a different relationship and with new responsibilities and they’re willing to take them, I think there has to be compensation for it.”

President Higgins said he believed the fallout from changes to Ireland’s derogation from European nitrates directives were “solvable”, and warned against a “straight confrontation” between farmers and government. He admonished the global failure to keep to UN sustainable development goals, in particular from the permanent members of the UN Security Council. “Each and every one of them has in fact pulled back, and I think that is disastrous.”

“Because others are pulling back, now is the time for us to say what was agreed in 20165 is important, not just for our generation but for all the generations to come.”

Farmers across Europe will have to be supported with social security measures in order to survive as governments move to implement deeper changes to agricultural production practices, the President said in his opening speech, stating that the open market alone will not save the future of “farm families”.

Mr Higgins said that the world was at the point of “multiple crises”, and that drastic change, rather than adjustment, was required in combating the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

“Rural Europe has to recover farming as a sustainable set of practices. Sole reliance on market targets, ever prone to fluctuation, has produced the uncertainties that threaten those involved in agriculture in Europe. If farming as a way of life is to be sustainable in practice, it will require the security of better socially designed supports,” he said.

Mr Higgins spoke of the role farmers must play in changing behaviours to fight climate issues, and encouraged those in the agricultural sector to continue the positive steps already taken.

“We are, all of us, as citizens, producers, consumers, farmers, asked to play a critical role in combating some of our greatest challenges, including climate change and biodiversity loss. Change is not easy, but it is unavoidable for survival itself, and I applaud all of the efforts that are being made towards creating a sustainable future.

“I encourage our farmers to continue on the path of change, transcend difficulties by designing strategies of implementation, and lead the way in adopting sustainable practices that can be demonstrated as successes to the farming community, ones that safeguard our environment.”

“Those actively engaged in land cultivation, intimately connected with the soil, the hedgerows, the fields, can appreciate the evidence before them. They hold a profound understanding of the rapid decline in both plant and animal species. As such, the residents of rural Ireland constitute vital participants in the pressing mission to reform practices, fostering our pursuit of survival and sustainability.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times

Fiachra Gallagher

Fiachra Gallagher

Fiachra Gallagher is an Irish Times journalist