'If Brexit hadn't happened the only thing we would be talking about is climate change'- Bord Bia CEO

Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy
Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

If Brexit hadn’t happened the only thing the Irish agri-food sector would be talking about is climate change, Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy has said.

Ms McCarthy warned that Brexit and climate change are two huge threats facing the industry and that the sector needs to get better at communicating its sustainability credentials as there is an obligation on the industry to “justify its existence”.

“I would suggest that if we didn’t have Brexit the only thing we would ever be talking about is climate change because they are two huge challenges facing our industry or two huge threats that challenge the very existence of our industries,” she told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture.

“So many of our farmers and our industry signed up to Origin Green which was actually a very strong indication of how much that has been taken to heart and that infrastructure has been designed and developed since 2012 to the fact now that we have 52,000 farms on board.

“What we can without a doubt do is flag and flag very continuously that there is a huge obligation on Ireland right the way through its industry to be able to illustrate the improvement that it is making to justify its existence never mind its expansion.”

Ms McCarthy added that apart from Brexit other significant challenges including an ever increasing stream of negative campaigns that “question the industry’s right to exist”.

“This includes challenges to the sustainability of red meat consumption on the grounds of health and environmental impact with the more extreme reports calling for beef consumption to be reduced by almost 80pc.

"For example the recent Eat Lancet report suggests a daily red meat allowance of 14 grams per day which would equate to less than a quarter pounder a week.

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“Such reports are creating an increasing perception among some consumers that red meat is not healthy particularly among millennials who are those aged around 23-38 and as a result there has been a substantial and sustained rise in veganism, vegetarianism and most particularly flexitarianism.”

She added that dairy is being challenged “just as hard as beef” and that while she stands over the work of the National Dairy Council she said the battle hasn’t been won.

“It is a challenge to all of the industry to be able to articulate its efforts much better, whether that’s the job of a brand new agency or that’s the job of the current infrastructure that’s already there.

“Whether that’s the farming organisations being very articulate and being able to defend their patch or whether that’s Bord Bia being able to defend its role and being able to provide data to them, there is definitely a job to be done.”

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