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Denis Drennan
President, ICMSA

The exclusion of farmers is absurd

The ICMSA was asked to comment on the publication of Ten-Point Action Plan on supporting Dairy Calf to Beef Systems in Ireland and while it is obvious that the plan has merit, it’s equally obvious that its potential was hugely undercut by the complete lack of any consultation with the very farmers who would implement the bulk of the actions.

We described this approach as both absurd and disappointing and noted this was yet another in the increasingly long line of state initiatives where the Government decided on measures without consulting the stakeholders, published their proposals and then engaged in token consultation with the stakeholders afterwards. This approach has been hugely damaging and wasteful and the Government needs to reacquaint itself with the actual meaning of consultation.

Get real

This ‘after-the-fact’ token ‘consultation’ becomes even more inexcusable if you believe – as we in ICMSA do – that a vibrant dairy-calf-to-beef system can be developed in Ireland that will deliver probably the most climate-efficient beef-production system in the world. ICMSA was the first farm organisation to identify this option and we have been the most consistent supporter of the rather half-hearted attempts on the Government’s part to get it up and going. But we are long past the point where the minister is going to have to get real. Dairy beef production accounts for in excess of 60 per cent of total beef production in Ireland, delivering billions in net foreign earnings for the country while the minister allocates a measly €6m per annum to support dairy-beef production. This is in sharp contrast with organic farming with an annual budget of €56m and forestry with a budget of €110m for 2024.
If the Government is as serious about climate change as it insists it is, then it must invest in low-emissions beef production. We need to see a dairy-beef-calf scheme with a substantial exchequer budget that will deliver a payment for both the calf rearer, subject to certain conditions, and also a payment for the beef finisher. Secondly, the beef price grid needs the long-overdue reforms that stop the ridiculous penalising of dairy beef that now comprises most of the total Irish beef production.
We could have pointed all this out and helped design a real plan with real capacity to solve a real problem. But we weren’t even asked. Sooner or later, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) is going to have to question the wisdom of continuing to have these ‘consultations’ with themselves only to then come forward with plans that contain glaring gaps that could have been filled if only they had asked other parties.

And speaking of glaring gaps...

Farmers will react with fury to media reports of a last-minute scramble on the part of the outgoing EU Commission to conclude a Mercosur Agreement. As far as we are concerned, any such deal will end forever the right of the EU to comment or develop policy in relation to climate change. Realistically, it is most unlikely that agreement will be reached given the scale of current farmer protest and dissension in both France and Germany. But even the idea that a deal could be rushed through before the Commission’s mandate expired was as astonishing as it was demoralising. The Taoiseach must signal immediately Ireland’s opposition to any such cynical attempt to ‘race for the line’ on the part of those elements who had never given up on their attempt to facilitate mass importation of South American beef regardless of the entirely predictable environmental disaster that would entail. 
The principal commodity that the Mercosur countries want to export to the EU is beef and other less important agri-products. In the event of a trade agreement being reached, those exports will be increased and produced off cleared forests – that’s not the opinion of farmers groups, it’s the opinion of every reputable analysis of the situation. So the proposed Mercosur Agreement boils down to this: To facilitate EU tech and financial exports to South America, the EU proposes to facilitate South American beef imports here that will wipe out what’s left of indigenous EU beef production, while inflicting cataclysmic damage to the most important forestry left on the planet.
Is there any sentient person in the EU Commission or the Irish Government who imagines that that is a tenable policy? You’d really have to ask.

On the line

What’s amazing here is the ‘political deafness’ of the Commission and the ‘political hypocrisy’ of governments like our own, who are happy to ram through measure-after-measure on the grounds of sustainability and climate mitigation that hit farmers – and only farmers – while allowing the Commission to aspire to agreements like the Mercosur Agreement that would, at a stroke, negate every single environmental measure that the EU has carried through in a decade. What’s the point of this? Where is the consistency? Where’s the logic of shutting down beef production in Ireland and driving it into a dysfunctional forestry sector, while signalling the Brazilians that they can start clearing what’s left of the rainforests to raise lesser quality beef to export to us? Nothing less than the credibility of the EU or the Irish Government to ever again comment on the environment is on the line here.