BY CON DOWNING
‘IRISH beef farmers have been sacrificed in the EU-Mercosur deal,’ declared Cill na Martra-based farmer Gerard Dineen. ‘We export 90% of our beef and will be most exposed to this deal.’
According to the former West Cork Farming Awards Drystock Farmer of the Year, ‘South America with its bad record on the environment and having no traceability on its beef, this deal should not be allowed to happen. With Irish beef prices on the floor at the moment and Brexit coming down the track, this is the last thing we needed.’
Another West Cork beef farmer, Tommy Moyles, said that, with most Irish beef going to the EU, ‘selling to your nearest market is a logical move with the current climate agenda. However as history has taught us, or some of us at least, trade can be complex and troublesome.’
Tommy spoke of the ‘shock waves’ that the EU trade deal with the Mercursor trading bloc of four South American countries – Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay – have sent through the Irish beef sector.
‘Provisionally, they have been given a quota of 99,000 tons worth of beef, which they can sell into the lucrative, but already self-sufficient EU beef market. The fear among farmers and the beef industry is that this will collapse price in a sector that already struggles at primary level.’
He said that farmer anger is exacerbated because there has been a growing environmental trend within EU policy to agriculture and this deal is seen as hypocritical: ‘Europe’s beef farmers, who already are highly-regulated will potentially have to compete with beef from countries whose regulations are more lax.’ Pointing out that the South Americans also benefit from scale and availability of cheap land and labour, Tommy quipped with not a little irony: ‘We may have to introduce more Portuguese or Spanish lessons into our schools yet and set sail south west!’
However, on a more serious note, he said: ‘If the value of beef is reduced, its knock-on effects in West Cork would be two-fold. There would be a contraction of the suckler herd and we would see a reduction in the value of calves from the dairy herd. While those calves aren’t core to their businesses, animal welfare and the image of Irish dairy farming is critically important.’
According to Gerard Dineen, the Mercosur deal is going to make things even worse than they are at the moment: ‘The average income for beef farmers last year was €8,350, including the Single Farm Payment; that is €160 per week or €4 per hour for a 40-hour working week. Beef farmers will not keep farming unless their income will improve.
‘The Beef Plan will be protesting outside Dáil Éireann on Wednesday next, July 10th, against the EU-Mercosur deal. All farm organisations and people from rural Ireland are welcome to show their support to save rural Ireland,’ he added.
Meanwhile, IFA president Joe Healy accused EU negotiators of colluding in a deal that has sold out Irish and European farmers, saying: ‘This is a bad deal for Ireland and for Irish farmers, it’s a bad deal for the environment and it’s a bad deal for EU standards and consumers.’ He called on the Taoiseach make it clear to Brussels that Ireland will not ratify this deal.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, TD, reacted: ‘I am very disappointed that the Mercosur agreement includes a significant Tariff Rate Quota for South American beef, at a time when the beef sector in Europe is facing significant uncertainty because of Brexit.’
Cork South West Fianna Fáil TD, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony said that Minister Creed knows that this is a bad deal for Ireland: ‘He must engage with his European counterparts to ensure that there is no decision to ratify this deal until all aspects of Brexit are sorted. He should be a stronger voice for the agri-sector, rather than undermining the sector with this deal.’