The substantial increase in beef imports to the EU under the new Mercosur deal is a massive blow to the Irish beef sector and will “destroy forever” the EU’s credibility on putting forward measures to combat climate change, according to the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICSMA).

ICMSA president Pat McCormack said that the economic damage to Ireland’s multi-billion euro beef sector from cheap lower standard South American imports would be enormous.

He added that, set alongside the increasingly probable loss of our traditional British markets, this “must mean that the Government was content to see Irish beef production fall into terminal decline”.

He said that this is “the only conclusion that farmers would come to in the face of the Government’s inaction as this dual threat now loomed over a sector that was already struggling to get past hopelessly low margins for the primary producers”.

Turning to environmental matters, McCormack said: “It is not tenable for Minister Bruton or anyone else to tell Ireland that we will have to change to prevent climate disaster while sitting at a Cabinet table that even contemplates signing off on a Mercosur agreement.

“We know – everyone knows – that increasing the amount of South American beef that can be imported into EU will have immediate and irreversible consequences for the global climate.

For 25 years, environmental scientists have focused on the destruction of South American forests by ranchers for beef production as possibly the single biggest threat to our ability to control carbon emissions and global warming.

“Now we have the EU signing off on a trade agreement that will accelerate that destruction; it is almost beyond belief,” said McCormack.

“This is a ‘make-or-break’ moment for the EU in terms of credibility and authority. Either it is serious and committed to stabilising climate change and global sustainability or it is not.

“On the basis of the decision to proceed with Mercosur then we have to – with shock and regret – conclude that it is the latter.

“It’s almost pointless to highlight the hypocrisy involved in the Irish Government telling the people of Ireland – and Irish farmers – that we will have to change our whole lives to accommodate the reality of climate change only to just stand aside while the EU agrees to a trade pact that will ensure disastrous environmental consequences for the sake of importing beef that the EU doesn’t even need,” he said.

This represents yet another example of the disconnect between political elites and citizens; and our Government needs to state openly whether or not it will vote against this deal.

“If our Government is to have any credibility; if what it said just days ago on the need for action on Climate Change was in any way meaningful, then it simply has to vote against this deal.

“This is a very clear case of either doing what’s right for global sustainability or ‘Big Business’ – and the Irish Government must make a choice.

“Everyone knows what the right choice is; we’ll now see if the Irish Government is prepared to choose it,” McCormack concluded.