The revelations that the EU and Irish government plan on making the 100 million euro beef fund conditional to a number of measures including possible reductions in production or restructuring the beef sector has been criticised by farmers and politicians representing rural constituencies.
The attachment of conditionality by the EU, and the Irish government’s willingness to accept this has disappointed Ireland’s beef farmers who are already struggling, and faced with a looming economic crisis as a result of Brexit who had been reassured by the government that this fund would be a support package for struggling farmers, not an effort to force restructuring onto the Irish beef sector.
By forcing restructuring and reduction on Ireland’s largely smaller part time beef farmers, this fund will create the conditions for feedlots to take over even more of the Irish beef market than the eighteen percent of the weekly kill that they currently control.
While some environmentalists might welcome measures that seek to reduce the number of beef cattle and suckler cows in Ireland in the believe that doing so will help lower our carbon footprint, and reduce Ireland’s role in deforestation for soy production in the Amazon. Doing so would be misguided smaller scale suckler farms are much more sustainable than either feedlot beef or other methods of intensive farming.
Another crucial aspect is that these conditions will only apply to those farmers availing of the beef fund, as such their will be no net change to the national herd as any reduction will be countered by an increase in the number of cattle by farms and feedlot operations not bound by the terms of the fund.
Following the government’s declaration of a climate emergency and the widely recognised need for more robust action on climate change and biodiversity loss it would make sense to support smaller farmers, not introduce measures which will only push more farmers off the land and make Ireland more reliant on environmentally damaging intensive farming.
There are 137,500 farms in Ireland, 43% of these farms are smaller than 40 hectares. This network of small and medium farms is central to the viability of rural communities, any measures which aim to reduce the environmental impact of Irish agriculture must be focused on ensuring the sustainability of communities as well as the environment. By threatening the most vulnerable Irish farmers with restrictions while simultaneously ignoring the problems with feedlots and encouraging dairy farmers to expand the government is showing that they are only interested in paying lip service to the challenges of climate change.
Despite clear issues with Irish and EU agricultural production, such as an over reliance on exports, CAP payments which benefit large farmers, increasing emissions and biodiversity loss, and the constant low prices paid to farmers. The Irish government and the EU continue to promote policies that do nothing to address these crises, instead they continue to put the interests of large farmers, processors, and retailers while ignoring both the need to address the climate crisis and the economic crisis facing farmers.
Both environmentalists and farmers are addressing the same issues, policies which protect the interests of large industrial unsustainable agriculture, for ordinary farmers they are defending their livelihoods and way of life from agriculture policies which prioritise large industrial agriculture at the expense of small scale sustainable farming. For environmentalists rightly concerned with the lack of action on climate change they oppose the same policies which threaten to push small farmers off the land.
It is time for anyone concerned with climate change to support small farmers and sustainable agriculture, any solution to these challenges must be include input from farmers to be workable. The myth that environmentalists and small farmers want different things is