Thursday 21 February 2019

Varadkar dines out on steak amid beef backlash

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The Taoiseach ate a "very nice Hereford steak" hours after he said he was cutting back on red meat, comments that have caused an angry backlash.

Leo Varadkar has been accused of being "reckless" and "flippant" after he revealed he was reducing his meat consumption for health reasons and to decrease his carbon footprint.

Farming groups and Opposition TDs have reacted furiously to his comments at a Fine Gael party think-in.

However, during heated exchanges in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar insisted: "I was specifically asked what I was doing on climate change and I said that I was trying to eat less red meat - not giving it up.

"I had a very nice Hereford steak last night."

The Irish Independent understands Mr Varadkar took Fine Gael colleagues to an upmarket Dublin restaurant specialising in steaks that evening.

But Mr Varadkar's comments have been described as "reckless in the extreme", "flippant" and "hurtful" at a time when farmers are threatened by Brexit.

The Taoiseach however stood by the remarks he made on Monday and said he had a "very nice Hereford steak" hours after he made them.

Mr Varadkar also told the Dáil that he's trying to eat less red meat for two reasons - health and climate change.

In the face of heavy Opposition criticism, he said: "It's not flippant. It is a fact that red meat increases instance of cancer and also contributes more to climate change."

Mr Varadkar's initial comments came at Fine Gael's parliamentary party meeting where he said tackling climate change is the "next big progressive cause" the party wants to champion.

It prompted a wave of criticism from farmers groups, with Irish Cattle and Sheep Association president Patrick Kent saying they were "reckless in the extreme".

Mr Kent added that the Taoiseach would be better served putting his efforts into preventing vast quantities of inferior meat products entering the EU from the other side of the world. He called upon Mr Varadkar to clarify that he wasn't suggesting people should eat less sustainably produced Irish beef and lamb.

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president Pat McCormack said Mr Varadkar's "timing couldn't be worse" due to Brexit. He defended the environmental record of the Irish beef and dairy industries. On Mr Varadkar's linking of red meat to cancer, Mr McCormack appealed to him to "pause for a minute and think about the impact of his remarks on the reputation and standing" of the agricultural sector.

Irish Farmers' Association president Joe Healy said the remarks were "disappointing" and he argued that Irish farmers have increased their output without increasing emissions.

He said farmers will seek a clarification on Mr Varadkar's remarks when he attends their AGM later this month.

In the Dáil, Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill accused Mr Varadkar of making a "flippant comment" that was "totally inappropriate for a head of government and damaging to a hugely important industry".

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae accused Mr Varadkar of not understanding the anger his comments had caused and said they were "hurtful" to farmers.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil he had said he was trying to eat less meat, "not giving it up".

"I can reassure deputies I have not become a vegan or anything like that and I'm very happy to eat fish landed in Donegal and poultry and turkeys and pork meat and all of the wonderful products that Irish farmers of all sorts produce."

 

Irish Independent

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