Any attempt to exclude meat products from the EU’s agri-food promotion policy would “be a betrayal of one of Europe’s most significant indigenous sectors”.

That’s according to the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Tm Cullinan, who was responding to a discussion in the European Parliament’s agriculture committee.

The committee MEPs heard from Wolfgang Burtscher from the European Commission’s Directorate General of Agriculture on the possibility of a review of future promotion policy.

During the meeting, speakers raised apparent links between high red meat consumption and cancer.

The livestock sector promotes sustainable production methods and the consumption of animal products as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

“The World Health Organisation [WHO] is on record that there is no compelling evidence that red meat consumed as part of a balanced diet contributes to cancer. How is the commission turning their back on science?” Cullinan asked.

“All products from farmers involved in sustainable farming need to be promoted, especially when our livestock farmers continue to operate to ever-higher standards of sustainability,” the IFA president said.

Any reduction in support for the promotion of their products goes against the commitment of the commission for more sustainable food production.

Cullinan also highlighted that, of the €182.9 million earmarked for agri-food promotion in the EU budget for this year, some €86 million is devoted to promotion of organic products, despite the organic sector comprising only 8% of agricultural activity across member states.

Balanced diet

Expressing similar concerns at yesterday’s committee meeting, Ireland Midlands-Northwest MEP Colm Markey said he was concerned over Burtscher’s “lack of a mention of a balanced diet”.

“I always felt that, for promotion, the whole key was to promote a balanced diet, which would include fruit and vegetables obviously, but also the likes of dairy, beef and fish as well,” Markey said.

I’d like to ensure that the promotional policy would push the balanced diet.

The MEP added: “I would have a concern over so much being invested in relation to organics, but also the inference that mainstream agriculture is something of an inferior product. I’d be very disappointed with that.”

On the issue of cancer, Markey noted: “Part of a balanced diet is consumption of proteins such as dairy and beef. Beating cancer is all about ensuring that we have a balanced.”