‘77% of the Irish public believe that farmers look after their livestock to high standards’

“77% of the Irish public believe that farmers look after their livestock to a high standard.” This is according to Prof. Tommy Boland of University College Dublin (UCD).

Boland was speaking on Tuesday, February 18, at the Agriculture Science Association’s (ASA’s) Meat Myth Busters event – which focused on the challenges and opportunities for Irish red meat – at the Killashee Hotel, Naas, Co. Kildare.

On the day, there was a number of speakers, which included Helen Sheridan of UCD and Sinead McCarthy of Teagasc.

‘High standards’

The statement (above) from Boland came during a panel discussion, where he said that “these vegan groups are a well-funded minority that are making a lot of noise”.

Sinead McCarthy of Teagasc added to this point and said: “The language being used by vegan groups is very emotive and it is swinging people’s opinion on the agriculture industry. For example, these vegans groups are saying dairy production takes the baby away from its mother.

“This kind of language gets people thinking and puts across the wrong message entirely.

“In their eyes, vegans are saving the world, while meat-eaters are destroying it which couldn’t be further from the truth.”

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During his presentation, Boland highlighted the good work that is happening in the Irish agriculture industry.

He added: “The vast majority of people in Ireland know that farmers look after and care for their livestock to a very high standard; according to a recent survey over 77% of the public believe this to be the case.”

Adding to this point, Boland said: “In order to change people’s perceptions of the agriculture industry and about the so-called damage it is having on our environment, people need to use the same metrics when comparing it with other industries.”

Speaking in front of the packed-out conference, Dr. Helen Sheridan of UCD said that an “understanding of where and how food that ruminant livestock produce is vital to changing people’s perception about beef production in particular”.

‘Choosing the cheaper option’

A noteworthy question posed to the speakers was: How is the Irish beef industry going to compete with the importation of Brazilian beef into Europe?

Answering the question, Sinead McCarthy said: “This is for sure going to be a difficult challenge.

“The problem is that if consumers don’t find any difference in taste between Irish and Brazilian beef then, obviously, they won’t buy the premium Irish product and they will end up choosing the cheaper option.

“However, because we produce such a good-quality product, that is predominantly grass-based, the hope is that consumers will continue to purchase that premium product; although, this will be difficult if there is a cheaper and similar-tasting product on the shelf beside it.”

The biggest concern among attendees was how the industry was going to cope with changing trends, vegan activists and cheaper food products – that might outwardly appear similar to Irish food – from other competing countries.

Also taking a stab at this question, Boland said: “If you notice anywhere there is a Tesco supermarket, there is a coffee shop across from it.

“In most cases, a person going into Tesco won’t pay that extra few euro for a good-quality cut of beef or chicken. For argument’s sake, let’s say it costs €6 for a chicken. Five minutes later, that same person won’t mind going over and paying €7 for a fancy cup of coffee.

“How big this cohort of people is I don’t know, but this is the problem we are facing and it is going to be very difficult to change.”