Wednesday 11 December 2019

Editorial: 'Farmers' 'beef' is justified - but gridlock won't solve it'

'With Brexit and a plummeting pound, beef prices tumbled' Stock image
'With Brexit and a plummeting pound, beef prices tumbled' Stock image


No voice should be so loud that it can demand that we listen to it. Farmers who visited two days of traffic chaos on the capital nonetheless felt entitled to turn up the decibel level to deafening point, in their drive to be heard.

It must be the strength of the argument, not the pitch of the voice that matters.

And many will regard it as a curious way of swinging the sympathy of commuters; by guaranteeing maximum disruption and inconvenience as they struggle to get to work.

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A letter signed "farmers of Ireland" has a list of demands including that a beef task force be set up, a regulator "to protect farmers' interests" be appointed, and the "root and branch reform" of all State agencies connected with the agriculture sector.

All reasonable and understandable claims, and all of which have a greater chance of being met by sitting down to talk instead of unleashing a cavalcade of tractors to clog up the city.

The farmers are frustrated and they have reason to be. Consumers take it for granted there will be food in the supermarkets and there is scarce thought given to the sacrifices that go in to providing it. Farmers, as they are wont to remind us, are price takers, not price makers.

So many may empathise with their plight as they have taken a hit to their incomes.

With Brexit and a plummeting pound, beef prices tumbled.

Farmers are also getting it in the neck over climate change and are none too happy about the prospect of a carbon tax.

But tactics such as taking over the city centre will not help their case or enhance their cause. They should think twice before doing so again.

As Taoiseach Leo Varadkar explained, the Government cannot control the price of beef.

The market determines this, and it is similar to the European average.

There are also agricultural income supports in place. But it should also be recognised that prices have been so low for so long that there is genuine hardship.

Settlement can only be achieved through engagement with Agriculture Minister Michael Creed. Dialogue is the only way to resolve these issues.

Ultimately, all of us, including farmers, will have to adapt and change to meet the non-negotiable demands of climate change.

But we need food and we need farmers. We all have a responsibility to manage scarcity and inefficiency responsibly.

That means consumers, buyers and suppliers will all have to adjust.

Things by necessity will be done differently in the future. We can resign ourselves to paying more.

But this will have to be done in a considered and co-ordinated way.

We all have a stake in this global conversation. It needs to be civilised.

There can be no escape from the inevitable so a collaborative, as opposed to a confrontational, approach is vital.

Irish Independent

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