ICMSA Pat McCormack JUNE 2018 www.irishfarmersmonthly.com Ireland has been given an opportunity to save our beef exports – we must take it There has been a queue of really serious issues bedevilling our crucial farming and agri-food sectors for the past six months. No progress is made by simply enumerating them again, but the just-finishing fodder crisis, falling milk price, confusion on the emissions issue, the fundamental threat to our beef exports posed by a Mercosur agreement and savage cuts to the 2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget that the European Commission is happy to attribute to the shortfall in contributions caused by Brexit are just the most obvious. In this context, where the problems are looming all around us and where solutions are proving very difficult and slow to present themselves, it is absolutely critical that when we get an opportunity to put one of these issues ‘to bed’ we take it, and take it with both hands. Last week, Ireland got an opportunity to get ourselves ready to put one of these issues to bed. The threat posed to our beef exports by a Mercosur agreement that massively increases the amount of beef imported from South America is too obvious to repeat. In a situation where uncertainty still applies to future trading arrangements with our traditional British markets and where we must seek out, win and increase our foothold in other markets, the prospect of 100,000-odd tonnes of South American beef being imported into the EU would be disastrous. An already bad and stressed situation for the Irish beef sector would be compounded and our chances of replacing our threatened UK markets with other easily accessible EU markets would be, perhaps, fatally damaged. That scenario would see our beef – produced under the most rigorous and environmentally sustainable system on the planet – undercut and driven out by South American beef originating in a hugely flawed and disreputable regulatory system and produced by what every commentator has identified as an environmentally reckless system so destructive that is has been repeatedly identified as a global threat. Under every possible heading – national interest, global environment, food safety and the welfare and survival of threatened indigenous tribespeople – a Mercosur agreement that incentivised increased production of beef in South America would be an unmitigated disaster. Last week the EU Foreign Affairs Council confirmed that Member States will have to individually approve any proposed Mercosur agreement via their own domestic ratification process. This is our chance, this ICMSA president, Pat McCormack. 68 is our opportunity to put this threat away. It is difficult to imagine that even a single deputy in the Dáil who understands anything about the nature and existing challenges to our multi-billion Euro beef exports would support an agreement designed to facilitate the importation of massive amounts of South American beef raised with lower food safety standards and produced from an environmentally destructive system. Under any one of the headings listed above, even the most urban-orientated of our TDs must grasp why permitting anything like the present Mercosur terms and conditions to proceed would amount to economic insanity and wilful environmental vandalism on a global scale. In the event of this coming before the Dáil, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) will contact every TD individually and inform them of the consequences of its passage – both to Ireland, to the wider EU and to the interests of safe food produced in a sustainable way. We are confident – we have to be – that, faced with the overwhelming evidence and logic, our TDs will correctly reject the proposed deal and insist that if South American beef is to be considered for import it must – absolutely must – meet the same standards of safety, environmental consideration and traceability that is demanded of Irish and other EU farmers. Our Dáil has been given a chance to deal with one of the most serious threats to our multi-billion Euro beef exports; it must now seize that chance.