We need to take advantage of Britain's vulnerability when it comes to their food security
Published 07/06/2011 | 05:00
As a country with such an exportable surplus of food, we Irish could be located in worse spots on our planet. Sitting right beside us is Britain, the world's most food vulnerable nation.
Maybe security of her country's food supply was another good reason for the recent visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth.
Against a background where the world's food supply/demand balance is close to tipping point, is the British government reviewing its traditional cheap food policy? Will British farmers be more cherished in the next 50 years than in the previous 50?
On a visit to the UK last week, I detected a new confidence among its farmers. They have got over their BSE and Foot and Mouth nightmares. Having their own currency now looks a sensible option given the troubles in euroland. With world food and raw material prices rocketing, farming in a country that has to import 40pc of its food is not the worst prospect.
In contrast, Irish farmers always had to, and always will have to, aim at export markets for our core farm products. The British market has to be our first port of call.
As the queen and President Mary McAleese pointed out, Ireland and Britain are inextricably intertwined. I was amazed when British prime minister David Cameron said that little Ireland buys more British goods than Brazil, India, China and Russia combined. Surely then, Britain buying its food from Ireland makes moral as well as economic sense.
Compared to their Irish (or French) counterparts, I have always thought that British farmers are a gentlemanly lot not given to street protest. You get a mix of the large country estate owner plus the family farmer often operating as a tenant farmer. The former do the talking, but the latter keep the head down and work, work, work. Despite their large scale, British dairy farmers have left the business in droves with the milk quota moving from England/ Wales to the farmer owners in Northern Ireland.
Despite the fact that the Irish dairy co-op movement was initiated by the UK based Co-op Wholesale Society, British farmers themselves never went for dairy co-ops. Neither did the co-op mart business get going in the UK (apart from a couple in Scotland).