‘We don’t accept that Brazil’s authorities are strict or accurate enough’ – Healy

Irish farmers “don’t accept” EU assurances that the Mercosur countries will adhere to strict sanitary and phytosanitary standards (measures to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases, pests, or contaminants) under a potential new trade agreement, a farm leader has stated.

Speaking on the latest episode of FarmLand, Joe Healy president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) gave his response to the recent announcement of “political agreement” being reached on the EU-Mercosur trade deal – which includes preferential tariff rates on 99,000t of beef from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Although this beef quota is equivalent to just 1.25% of all beef consumed in the EU, Healy contends that, under the cloud of a no-deal Brexit, this volume could have a devastating impact on beef farms in Ireland.

Farmers are angry, they feel let down by the EU politicians. Our phones in the office, and our personal phones, haven’t been as busy at any stage during my term as president – this has been the biggest time, the biggest reaction.

“Farmers on the ground feel they have been sold out by the EU Commission, they point to it as the height of hypocrisy in the whole area of climate change and also double standards,” he said.

The EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, has staunchly defended the draft agreement – the EU’s largest trade deal to date and negotiated over a 20-year period.

From an EU perspective the big beneficiaries of the trade deal are the car, car manufacturing, machinery, chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Healy continued: “The type of production that we are used to here – in Ireland and across Europe – that all adds extra costs to your production line.

“Compare that then with the lack of traceability, the lack of animal welfare, the lack of regard for the rainforests in Brazil,” he said.

He highlighted that in the last few months Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his government have authorised the use of more than 150 new pesticide products in the country.

Weak flesh scandal

He also discounted assurances from the commission that the Mercosur countries will be subject to strict SPS standards – with consequences should these standards not be met.

This week a commission source confirmed to AgriLand that if a problem emerges, the region in question will be blocked – not the entire bloc.

The EU will also have the option of pushing a “red button” on the deal at short notice should a food scare emerge.

Also Read: Mercosur to be held to climate action pledges in new deal – EU

Additionally, a €1 billion support fund will also be available to EU farmers in the case of market disturbance.

“We don’t accept that. You only have to think back to weak flesh [scandal]. The European Food and Veterinary Office did a report on what they were getting and the meat that was coming in was wrong.

It wasn’t safe, and their report gave a damning indictment of the Brazilian authorities.

“So where does Commissioner Hogan, or indeed any of the other commissioners, get the view that it has changed since or it will change in the future?

“We don’t accept that the Brazilian authorities are either strict enough or give accurate information,” he said.

Urgent meeting

The IFA has written to the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar seeking an “urgent meeting” on deal – which will need to be rejected by a third of all member states in order to prevent its green light.

Following the announcement the Taoiseach said the Government will conduct a full economic assessment of the impact the EU-Mercosur trade deal in Ireland.

“We’ll be asking him, whatever about his impact analysis and what it may show for the pharmaceuticals in Galway city, in Dublin city, Cork, Limerick – that it will be positive for those and that will probably outweigh the losses in the beef sector.

“But when we talk about the European Union we talk about the family farm model of agriculture, we talk about keeping rural areas alive, we talk about not having to spend an hour and 15 minutes in a car going to work and having enough to play 15 on the under 14 team.

We’re talking about livelihoods and we’re talking about keeping a sector alive that underpinned this country when it was on its knees – when every other sector was losing jobs, moving out of the country, agriculture was the one constant.

“We’re talking about a sector that has continued to increase its exports year-on-year for the past nine or 10 years. Last year we were at over €13 billion of agri food and drink products from this country – going into 180 countries around the world.

“And we’re talking about safeguarding the beef and livestock sector  – the backbone of rural Ireland,” he said.

Find out what farmers think of the draft EU-Mercosur trade deal watch this week’s episode of FarmLand below: