Farmers 'unfairly' blamed for climate change, says Agriculture Minister

Farmers 'unfairly' blamed for climate change, says Agriculture Minister

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue speaking with Seamie English from Oola, Co Limerick, and his grandson Jack English during the minister's visit to Cahir Mart, Co Tipperary, last week. Picture Denis Minihane.

Farmers have been unfairly singled out and blamed for climate change and consumers will have to take greater responsibility for emissions, the Agriculture Minister has said.

Charlie McConalogue said the debate around our agricultural sector, which accounts for one-third of carbon emissions, has been "one-sided" and "misinformed".

It comes as Mr McConalogue is due to bring legislation forward to establish a food ombudsman, which would look at the margins farmers get for their produce compared to those further up the chain, including distributors and supermarkets.

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue during his visit to Cahir Mart. Picture: Denis Minihane
Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue during his visit to Cahir Mart. Picture: Denis Minihane

Farming organisations have criticised the Government's "deafening silence" when it comes to admitting climate change measures will mean a return to food price inflation.

“We keep waiting for anyone in a senior position in the Irish Government to inform the Irish public that an absolutely certain consequence of the transition to low emissions farming and primary food production is an increase in price to the consumers," said Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) president, Pat McCormack.

Asked about this, Mr McConalogue said consumers must recognise the "real cost" of producing food and farmers must have a sustainable income, but he stopped short of saying the price of milk, meat and other products would rise significantly.

"The consumer has a massive role to play in this and is very much leading the change here too.

"But there's also the reality that we're a food exporting nation and we export 90% of what we produce. We're exporting into international markets, over 100 countries right around the world, so you don't get to control the prices that are available in those markets."

Ireland has committed to cut emissions by 51% by 2030, which has placed a focus on the carbon produced by the dairy and beef sector, with some calling for a reduction in the national herd.

Unfair narrative

However, Mr McConalogue strongly hit out at the unfair narrative being pushed by some that farmers are major polluters who must pay.

"In relation to farmers, and the point about feeling under pressure and feeling that they're very much singled out, I think we do see that. I think it is unfair and I think it's doesn't reflect the approach that farmers have taken, the very significant work that they do on behalf of the environment," he said.

Charlie McConalogue speaks to an IFA delegation during his visit to Cahir Mart, Co Tipperary. Picture: Denis Minihane
Charlie McConalogue speaks to an IFA delegation during his visit to Cahir Mart, Co Tipperary. Picture: Denis Minihane

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, the Donegal TD said: "I think we will see a rebalancing of the public narrative – I certainly hope – in relation to this. I think a lot of the debate around so far has been one-sided and misinformed."

Mr McConalogue said more transparency was needed around the pricing structure in the agri-food sector and this is why he is committed to setting up a Food Ombudsman.

It will be about assessing what's happening in the market, looking at the value chain, looking at where the margins are going within that.

"I'm trying to bring clear transparency as to how the prices that we're getting for food primarily in international markets, which is where 90% of the prices are set, how that translates back to what farmers are getting on the ground."

The minister hopes the work of the ombudsman will put pressure on the industry to maximise the return for farmers.

"My target is to have the legislation in at the end of this year to bring it through the Oireachtas, and then to get the office up and running next year and to have it operational next year."

It comes as a major new decade-long strategy for Ireland’s food and drinks sector is launched.

Food Vision 2030 aims to increase agri-food exports from €14bn to €21bn before the end of the decade, while further enhancing Ireland’s reputation as a sustainable producer.

Launching the policy, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: "We accept the challenge put to Government, to work with the sector in ensuring its future sustainability, economic, environmental and social, and in realising the inherent opportunities that presents."

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