Hundreds of farmers descended on Dublin yesterday urging the Government not to “sell them out”.
Twenty nine IFA county executives visited the city’s Davenport Hotel for a two-hour conference to intensively lobby politicians against the EU Commission’s Mercosur trade deal.
The European Commission agreed the deal last month, after two decades of negotiations and despite strong opposition from Italian, Spanish, French, Irish and Polish livestock sectors.
The deal could see an extra 99,000 tonnes of beef, 18,000 tonnes of poultry and 25 tonnes of pork imported from Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, a development that Irish farmers say could decimate the industry.
The farming lobby argues that the beef produced in Ireland is of the highest standard, and the import of South American meat will introduce unfair competition with producers who do not abide by similar standards, due to far less demanding health, trace-ability and environmental requirements.
Shane Galvin from Limerick, who has worked on his family beef farm since the age of four, says the trip to Dublin was vital to drive home the message that the deal must be stopped.
“When the cheaper meat comes in, it’ll drive the price of Irish meat down, we’re already in a loss making situation,” he says.
Another key issue for the IFA is the environmental impact. Beef farming has come under sustained criticism as European governments tackle their own environmental targets, over concern about the impact it has on climate change.
The European Commission Joint Research Centre found Irish beef is four times more carbon efficient than Brazilian meat, a fact that the IFA says highlights the hypocrisy of the deal.
Supporters of the deal argue that rather than undermining sustainability, the deal presents an opportunity for Europe to export high social and environmental standards to the South American bloc.
EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan said last week that critics are exploiting environmental concerns to block free trade.
Speaking after the deal announcement, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed conceded that he was very concerned at the potential impact of some elements.
“We want to put the pressure on politicians here to exert that pressure on MEPs and pressure further down the line on our Taoiseach to veto this deal,” said IFA president Joe Healy.