By Tomas Tierney.
Forget the report of the Irish Economy’s success. Forget that employment is growing and that there are increasing tax revenues. Ignore the continued projected annual growth rates and the endless prattle about our Economic Recovery.
Instead consider the facts: Farm incomes are dropping and every year there are up to 7000 fewer farmers in the fields. All this is happening despite huge structural funds and subsidies to allow the sustainability of primary food production. These structured funds were initially set up to help put Irish farming in a position where it could survive of its own accord. What has happened instead is that primary producers have become fully reliant on EU subsidies, as the market value of their produce is completely uneconomical.
Nobody is in any doubt that the EU Funds are running out (maybe Europe itself is running out...).
“The EU cake is getting smaller and more people want a slice”. Remember that for the average farmer, 70% of his income comes from the EU and not from customers buying his produce. In addition, there is increased pressure from outside the EU to abolish state supports for farming. The World Trade Organization, for example, is vocal about the need to open up Europe to America, Australia and other food producers.
Perhaps it’s useful to look NOT at agriculture as a business, BUT at farmers as people......
The Future Post Subsidies
The future for primary production has to lie in a realistic market price for the farmer. This year, for example, only 28% of organic lamb produced in Ireland was sold at a premium price – the remainder was sold as mainstream produce.
Why? I don’t have the answers....
Who dictates the price for Irish farmers’ produce?
Is it World trade prices? Dominant processors? Major Retail Outlets?
OR is it ourselves as consumers.....?
Are we really willing to pay premium prices for premium products? Or is the overall Food Industry going to continue on its race to the bottom....?
AND Is there a connection between quality Nutrition and Health?
Illness in the 21st Century
It is characterized by Chronic diseases, largely caused by eating a poor diet, being too sedentary and living time-poor, highly-stressed lives.
“Obesity in Ireland is a much worse crisis than HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and cholera in the 1800s”, says Prof Donal O’Shea, the country’s leading obesity expert.
Along with obesity we have huge increases in the incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular illness and dementia. Everyday foods (dairy, sugar and wheat) are often a major cause. Mental illness is often avoided or alleviated by improved nutrition.
The foods we eat have often become severely depleted of essential nutrients – soil depletion has resulted in the loss of essential minerals, and vitamins are often lost because of the distance and time travelled for produce to get to its end user.
Food economics and agriculture must take sustainability into account. This will result in better produce. Intensive farming of animals necessitates huge amounts of grain/cereal production to feed these animals; with subsequent loss of grasslands rich in Omega 3 fats and essential minerals and loss of wildlife habitat (bees etc), not to mention the fossil fuels used in its production. Use of low dose antibiotics in intensive farming also exacerbates a health system already in crisis – the rise of antibiotic resistant bugs etc.
We must think of food in an almost political way – what we buy, what we eat, the shops we support – it all relates back to sustainability, seasonality and local producers, and automatically gives nutritional value for money in return.
Perhaps there is life post subsidies for the farmers in Ireland – but it necessitates a major shift in consumer thinking and logic, and subsequently in market prices for the primary producers.
After all “We are what we eat”.