Opinion

It’s time Irish farmers got full recognition for the quality food they produce

If nothing else, Brazil’s ‘rotten meat’ scandal should bring home to consumers in this part of the world just how lucky they are in having such a high-quality livestock industry on their doorsteps.

Origin Green and the other farm quality assurance schemes guarantee full traceability, animal welfare, conservation and environmental protection standards.

The only problem is that Irish farmers do not get fully compensated – by way of the market – for the immense investment they have undertaken in making all of this a reality.

It has suited Europe’s purposes well to push a cheap food agenda over the past 50 years. The theory is a very simple one: It makes consumers (and ultimately voters) happy!

But the sad reality is that the CAP payments available to farmers do not make up for the shortfall in returns which primary producers have to endure – year-in; year-out.

There was always a discrepancy between what the market offers farmers and the support monies available to them. And this gap is set to grow as EU budgets continue to tighten.

I know that all of the Irish farm lobby groups have the retention of a realistic support budget as their number one priority, in the context of the upcoming CAP review. And this is the way it should be.

But even if this objective is secured, it will not be enough to deliver long-term financial security for Irish farmers.

The market must deliver realistic returns for primary producers. EU farm commissioner Phil Hogan has made no secret of the fact that he wants more balance brought to bear within Europe’s agri-food chain.

This, one assumes, is code for shunting a higher proportion of the retail returns, that are generated, back down the line to the primary producer.

‘Big Phil’ has been in office for two years now; it’s time for him to deliver on this commitment.

He now has a golden opportunity to really kick-start this process, courtesy of what has happened in Brazil.

I know that crises, such as Foot and Mouth disease and Avian Flu outbreaks, can crop up with no warning at all. But these are issues that farmers have no control over.

Fundamentally, Europe has an exemplary track record when it comes to producing food of the highest quality.

So why doesn’t the Commissioner take the opportunity of broadcasting this ‘good news’ story to the world over the coming days. And while he is doing this, he should also take the opportunity of telling consumers and supermarkets that European food has been totally undervalued.

Earlier this week, a Commission representative told me that Brazil’s food traceability systems were not up to scratch. He actually used more ‘flowery’ language; but I think you get the message.

So, surely, it behoves Phil Hogan to tell European consumers that cheap food and quality food are not one and the same thing!

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