Sunday 21 July 2019

Margaret Donnelly: 'Yes, God made a farmer - but the so-called experts could undo that'

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Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Back in 2013, a US truck manufacturer ran a hugely successful and thought provoking commercial during the Super Bowl.

The very simple 'God Made a Farmer' ad ran for two minutes, with the recurring phrase "so God made a farmer", and cost millions to air to speak to "the farmer in all of us".

It opened with the line: "And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said 'I need a caretaker'. So God made a farmer." It's that humble role of caretaker that the farmer today retains, even though around him the world, and the food sector, have changed considerably.

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Science and mechanisation have changed what farming is about in many ways over the past 40 years, but the role of the farmer has remained the same - producing food.

Yet many of today's Irish farmers are struggling to make a viable living from the sector.

However, around them the food industry has become dominated by roughly 10 companies which own the majority of foods we consume and decide what we eat.

Fundamentally, farmers produce food; but today's report lumps it in with these huge, international food companies that determine the price farmers receive.

Farming is the start of the food chain, but it's not the sole cause or reason for obesity, malnutrition or climate change.

They are down to the simple choices we make, individually as consumers.

Blaming farmers for the choices we make as individuals won't stop climate change or obesity. It's the so-called 'Big Food' of huge, international food companies who have questions to answer around what we are 'sold' as consumers and the pressures on farmers to produce it as cheaply as possible.

Producing food in the most environmentally-friendly manner will only become more and more important.

It is the farmer who remains the caretaker of the land and they must be supported to do this.

If the sector itself cannot or will not provide farmers with a viable income, then subsidies are essential to ensure they keep producing the food that we need to survive.

What that food is, or how much of it we consume, calls for a complete reform of the global agri-food sector which looks set to continue over the coming weeks and months.

Today's 'Lancet' report is the second in as many weeks that will do little to keep Irish farmers happy and will continue to put more pressure on a sector that has the potential to be severely affected by Brexit.

Our own Taoiseach has said he is trying to cut down on the amount of meat he is consuming.

But unless the wider food industry and society takes responsibility and supports farmers to produce what it considers 'healthier' food, there won't be much bread, or anything, to eat on the table.

Irish Independent

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