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Pat McCormack: Why the EU food supply chain should be viewed as a critical asset


 Photo: Liam Burke

Photo: Liam Burke

Photo: Liam Burke

As we struggle with the implications of Covid-19 and the human tragedies it's bringing, many of us are struck forcibly by the critical role played by the health sector battling bravely against the virus, and the food sector delivering high-quality food to all sections of society.

We are now living without many items and activities we thought were indispensable.

And we now know - if we didn't already - that there are two things that we cannot do without: a quality healthcare system and a consistent supply of safe food.

There has been deserved recognition of food retail and processing workers for their efforts in delivering high-quality, safe food.

The role of the farmer has also been acknowledged, but to a notably lesser extent. Irish farmers on a daily basis are producing the essential raw materials for all our food products. They have rightly been designated as an essential service and we, as a nation, should be proud of the work of our farmers. I know I am.

The agriculture sector has taken a bashing over the last year, but I hope that our key role in producing food will be given the recognition it merits going forward.

Perhaps even more important is that the EU food supply-chain from farmer to retailer will be seen as a critical asset for the EU and protected and structured in a sustainable manner, where 'sustainable' means oversight of all the links in the supply chain under the three pillars of Economic, Environmental and Social.

The EU has taken food security for granted for far too long and our food sector has been consistently sacrificed in trade deals.

When the Covid-19 pandemic is over, I hope the EU has learned lessons about sustainable food production and the importance of food security.

Irish farmers are producing top-quality food while being uncertain about their economic sustainability; some sectors already seeing significant price cuts.

Irish beef farmers, for example, have seen the price paid for their cattle slashed because of the crisis.

A key problem for the beef sector is the importation of steak cuts which completely undermine Irish farmers -who our politicians have rightly praised for their role in maintaining our food-supply chain.

Can we not simply suspend these imports to stabilise our market and sustain our producers? In times of crisis, we need to make hard decisions and this should be one of them.

The multiple retailers will see their profits soar due to Covid. Surely a level of solidarity is required at times of crisis?

While Tesco Ireland's decision to hold beef prices is a start, further steps are required from the multiples, and the EU policymakers need to send clear signals that they realise that food security is important, that our primary food producers are a critical asset.

And that they will get the support they've earned - which they warrant anyway - through this crisis.

Pat McCormack is president of the ICMSA

Indo Farming