Wednesday 24 January 2018

EU-sponsored food for refugees will be part of €500m farmers' aid

Phil Hogan
Phil Hogan
John Downing

John Downing

The EU Commission is to provide subsidised food from its stocks to stricken refugees as part of farmer-aid proposals to be put before Agriculture Ministers in Brussels today.

The plan is part of a €500m package, which will also advance early grant payments to Irish farmers to help offset falling incomes due to chaos in world food markets.

It will be presented in the name of EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, who will miss today's crucial meeting because he is in a Dublin hospital after being taken ill at the weekend.

Mr Hogan, an avid Kilkenny hurling fan, also missed yesterday's hurling final. But he is understood to not be seriously ill and is responding to treatment for extreme abdominal pain.

The plan is to provide subsidised food, bought to support flagging prices, to organisations helping stricken migrants all over the EU. The hope is that the initiative can help alleviate two problems with one action.

Thousands of farmers, including farm union activists from Ireland, will today march in Brussels in their first major demonstration in the EU capital for many years. They are demanding EU action to address falling family farm incomes in the wake of a collapse in world commodity prices.

In a clear warning to the EU Commission and the EU agriculture ministers in advance of the farmers' protest, Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Eddie Downey said the traditional food distribution system had broken down.

He said below-cost selling by retailers and cartels was squeezing the viability from farm food production, which was already under severe pressure from depressed and volatile commodity markets.

"It is critically important that ministers step up at tomorrow's meeting with a strong declaration that Europe will ban below-cost selling of food and address the excessive input costs imposed on farmers.

"It is vital that farm ministers take action to ensure the EU Single Market is working properly," said Mr Downey.

Both the IFA and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, who will attend today's talks, had sought early advances on various EU farmer grants to help alleviate hardship. Last Thursday, Mr Hogan signalled that he was doing this and last night more details emerged.

Mr Hogan had let it be known that he would advance up to 70pc of some grants on October 16. It has now emerged that up to 85pc will be advanced in many cases.

The EU is also initiating so-called aids to private storage schemes to fund the storing of product taken off the market. These schemes will apply to dairy products and pigmeat.

The extent of the migrant food aid plan has yet to be spelled out. It is understood that NGOs will be approached to seek their co-operation and much will depend on their reaction.

Irish Independent

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