Opinion

It takes an extreme weather event to get consumers on the side of food producers

Consumers went into panic mode when it became obvious that last week’s cold spell was going to have an impact on food supplies.

As a consequence, supermarket shelves were cleared in short order as people stocked up for the big chill that was about to befall them.

Meanwhile farmers the length and breadth of Ireland were putting life and limb at risk to get feed to stock in outlying areas while, at the same time, doing their utmost to keep young lambs and calves alive.

Add in the fact that many producers found themselves without a water supply and it’s easy to get a sense of just how much stress farm families up and down the land were coming under.

So why does it take some form of climatic disaster before the average consumer takes notice of how important it is to have a guaranteed food supply available to him or her?

Under such circumstances, some might even have spared a thought for those farmers whose work and effort made all of this possible in the first place.

Taken for granted

It’s a sad reality that farmers, and the service they provide, are taken for granted by the public. And this principle holds equally well in every country throughout the European Union (EU).

This blase attitude has been encouraged by the supermarkets, all of which have a cheap food policy at the very core of their business development plans.

This issue must be addressed head-on by the EU authorities. Phil Hogan has been promising that he would make the matter a core policy driver for him during his term-of-office as the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

But, yet, we have seen nothing of substance coming from Hogan’s office when it comes to dealing with the blatant imbalance that exists within the EU’s farming and food chain.

Adding to the pressure on farmers is the fact that the real value of the support packages available to them has diminished over recent years. A combination of falling market prices and a reduction in support levels is hardly the best foundation on which to build a sustainable farming sector.

The EU has the authority to call the supermarkets to book, when it comes to the way in which they deal with suppliers. So, it’s time Brussels flexed its muscles and acted to ensure a viable future for primary producers throughout the EU.