Farmers have a right to beef

By | May 26, 2008

LAST Monday night found me in the Ardboyne Hotel in Navan with a bunch of farmers, educating myself about the World Trade Organisation. Unsurprisingly, out of the 100 or so present there was just one lady farmer, and a total of four women in the room. The farmerette, me, MEP Mairead McGuinness and her political and logistical supporter Emer Smith-Duff.
McGuinness would be getting up at 4.30am to be in Strasbourg by 10am in order to table amendments to a food prices bill. Smith-Duff’s job is to get her out of the meeting before 10.30pm so she can get some sleep. But there’s no sign of tiredness when McGuinness takes the floor. She stays on her feet for 90 minutes, telling us about a recent trip to Brazil, the Lisbon Treaty and the WTO talks. Usually at these meetings people shift around in their seats, yawn, and check their watches. Tonight they are fully engaged as the Fine Gael MEP takes questions and explains both the big picture and the minute detail of how geo-political negotiations, consumer concerns, bureaucratic systems and national politics are colliding to dictate the future of the people in the room. I’d decided to find out about the WTO talks because I kept hearing farmers moaning that Peter Mandelson, the UK commissioner who is negotiating for the EU, is selling them out. Others are complaining that this is just the farmers moaning as usual.
The farmers say that Mandelson wants to agree to tariff reductions and increased importation of South American beef. This would effectively ruin Irish beef farming. The free-market libertarians say that Irish farmers shouldn’t get subsidies to produce beef in the first place. If Brazil or any other country can send us beef for half the price, so be it. Who cares if the beast is Irish, Brazilian or Australian? We live in a globalised world and if farmers can’t make money from their enterprise, tough. I’d a fair idea this argument was flawed, but I wanted to know precisely why.
The WTO sets the rules for trade between countries. The current phase of negotiations is called “the Doha round” after the city in Qatar where they started. They’re also referred to as “the development round”, as everyone agrees the rules have to change to help developing countries.
Most farm subsidies have now been “decoupled”, which means that farmers get their cheques in the post from Brussels no matter what they produce. This was done to reform the crazy system whereby farmers produced more and more just to earn bigger cheques, as a result of which the infamous food mountains and wine lakes were created.
While the reforms were correct, a problem arose with the collapse of the suckler herd, or cattle nursery, and beef supplies were endangered. Why go to the trouble of producing calves if you’re getting paid anyway? Since we need meat, a special subsidy was reintroduced for calves in order to encourage production.
One point on which I’m satisfied, having listened to McGuinness, is that the Lisbon Treaty is completely independent of the WTO talks. Whether the treaty is passed in next month’s referendum or not, the talks will go on.
There are many technical issues associated with the Doha round but you could boil it down to this question: should Irish farmers compete without subsidies against Brazilian beef?
McGuinness described the awesome scale of the cattle farms she saw in Brazil. She couldn’t help but be impressed at the way in which modern-day cowboys round up thousands of cattle on the massive ranches in the Amazon basin. The scale isn’t just romantic – it makes beef production cheap.
The MEP was also shown Brazilian beef-processing factories and observed the flip side of the industry. Tagged and untagged cattle mix together in a system that has little regard for the health and safety procedures that Irish farmers are required to follow. If cattle aren’t tagged, no-one will know where they’ve come from. Irish consumers are used to what is called “farm to fork” traceability. Every steak you eat can be traced, not just to a meat factory but to a farm and all the way back to Daisy, the cow that provided it.
So if Daisy turned out to be a mad cow, we can find out with whom she mixed and destroy her possibly infected herd. Similarly if it’s discovered that Daisy’s owner fed her angel dust or illegal medication, that practice can be traced and stamped out.
Implementing this traceable system is cumbersome and expensive for the Irish farmer. Those who call for free competition don’t understand that EU regulations render it impossible for them to compete effectively with the Brazilians, who are not so encumbered. Your zebu steak might be cheap and taste fine, but it’s not traceable. So what? Well, wait until the next outbreak of disease, and then you’ll care and probably complain bitterly that stupid officials let cheap, poor-quality food onto your plate.
The other issue of food security is even more important. Let’s imagine that subsidies are removed, tariffs reduced, and Brazil is allowed to import unlimited beef into the European Union. As it’s so much cheaper due to their economies of scale, the free market will win and Irish farmers will reduce production and turn to something else. Then suppose there’s an outbreak of foot and mouth, or China does a deal with Brazil to buy all their beef. Suddenly there’s a massive shortage of beef in Europe. Beef is not like oil. You can’t turn the tap on and off at the whim of a Saudi prince. Cattle are killed when they are two or three years old. It could take up to five years to crank up production again, and in the meantime prices would soar. The free market libertarians won’t be so popular when a pound of mince costs €15.
Subsidies can create disasters, as the policy of subsidising the conversion of grain into bio-ethanol instead of flour has demonstrated. Bread prices are increasing and millions in the developing world will starve this year due to soaring prices. But subsidies also ensure stability and a secure line of production.
The “cheque in the post” is an unnecessarily pejorative and simplistic way of describing the system that keeps good-quality, relatively cheap food on your plate. Like everything else, you won’t notice until it’s gone. Then you’ll be moaning along with the farmers.

45 thoughts on “Farmers have a right to beef

  1. Bolg

    Totally fair arguments, well made.

    However, I still don’t understand something about Irish farming. If it is so well subsidised (and, apart from arguments about whether it should be, it is well subsidised) and beef is now so expensive, why don’t Irish farmers produce more of it? Why don’t they ramp up production and benefit from the same economies of scale that the Brazilians do? If traceability etc is so expensive, then create a few mega-farms and drive down the costs.

    All the best beef is exported from Ireland, it has a good reputation abroad and at home, so the market seems to be there. There does seem to be a lack of entrepreneurial spirit in Irish farming, which one could assume to be a result of the subsidy system.

    P.S. As far as I know the vast majority of subsidy recipients are actually pretty large commercial operations, but the media still makes out like these are poor little guy farmers we’re dealing with. And even if they are one man jobs, why do we see entrepreneurs as in-it-for-themselves risk takers but farmers as some other category worthy of special protections and warm, fuzzy feelings? Are they not just self-employed businessmen, wellies or not?

  2. Tomaltach

    Leaving the WTO aside, the EU wants to reduce farm subsidies for its own reasons which are twofold:

    1.They were initially required to boost production and security of food after the war. But proved ‘too effective’ resulting in the wine lakes etc mentioned by Sarah.

    2.The EU budget, though small as a percentage of european GDP, is tightly fought over and not going to be increased. Up to about 10 years ago 80% of the EU budget went to farmers. That’s now about 50%. Still, half of the budget goes to a sector which is overproducing and which is only a tiny fraction of european employment. Further, it really only benefits some states. Others far less, or barely at all (this is why Margaret Thatcher forced the EU to give the British a rebate. They were one of the highest contributers but lowest beneficiaries since their farm sector, percentage wise, was small).

    In all probability the move to prices determined more by market forces will result, with possible distortions in some areas and with some provisions or plans to intervene if the market fails.

    The trend of decreasing numbers of Irish Farmers, therefore, will continue. Though that is not to say that we will not evolve a highly competitive farm sector: we have already done so to a large extent. Anyone who remembers the shape of an average Irish farm in 1975 and who now walks around any large or medium size farm will know what I mean. Despite being subsidized ( or perhaps because?!!!), the entire sector has been modernised and productivity levels have increased several fold. Farmers now know more about the consumer, about marketing, about quality and the need for quality.

    It is only right that dramatic changes (modernisation, shrinkage in numbers etc) in this sector have been cushioned by the tax payer. Any thing else would have caused immense hardship and would not have enabled a fairly orderly transition in rural life, allowing communities to adapt. Of course, that process has been uneven and challenging even as it is. And in fact, this is still the area that needs far more attention than it gets.

    If you look at the Rural policy part of the current program for government, apart from wishy washy statements about sustainability, the real detailed policy (and money) is devoted to agriculture. But this is outdated thinking and a hangover from our more agri-centred past. Rural life is not now primarily sustained by agriculture (the numbers alone from the CSO tell us that, but also do visits to any rural village or down). The economic base has diversified and shifted. But that process is still underway and needs far more attention and investment than it gets. About 40% of the Irish population live in areas designated ‘rural’, that’s about 1.6m people. And I argue that our economic and indeed social (policing, education, etc) policies are far too neglectful of this fact.

    It’s literally an issue of “town and country” and it is undergoing a long process of change. It needs far better handling. And it will happen regardless of the WTO. Of course, we need to make sure than we can do all we can to prevent changes which are too rapid to handle. But aside from fighting to prevent change, we should be building better institutions, infrastructure, and ways of thinking about rural policy to deal with it.

  3. Electron

    Sarah, this is all about mercs for beef, as far as the EU is concerned – farming is far too complex to manage, so outsource it to some low cost country who will barter for high-end manufactured products. This is a tried and trusted formula, but unfortunately, Ireland will loose out as we don’t have our own manufacturing companies. Therefore, there is a link between the WTO talks and Lisbon as the IFA No campaign points out.

    As for Bolg’s views on farming – if I were him, I wouldn’t give up the day job!

  4. City Dweller

    Farmers have two main complaints. When the going is bad their pockets are too big. When the going is good their pockets are too small. Either way the farmers whinge and moan and throw their toys out of the tractor.

    The largest recipient of subsidies in Ireland is the farm of Larry Goodman. He hardly needs it. He isn’t exactly homeless or destitute.

    Beef farming has to change. An ocean of cheap beef for burgers is a waste of land water and resources. Eating too much beef and meat is also a way of ensuring an early exit for you from this life. Farmers resist and bluster that their beef is the best in the world but we do have very high levels of cancer and heart disease in this country and their wallets must come after our health.

    This will never happen. Farmers are more organised and better whingers than the rest of us.

  5. dc

    WE have a similar problem here in Canada with the elephant across the border since NAFTA. The farmers here can’t easily compete with the giant agribusiness over there, and so we are swamped with their food products.

    My answer to why your govt. should subsidise the agricultural industry is simple: a country should be able to feed its own people. If it doesn’t, somewhere along the line, it is be hostage to other countries agendas, whatever they are. That’s not soverignty, that’s colonization through the back door. Cheap food has a heavy price, in the long run.

  6. City Dweller

    Well if that were true we wouldn’t be exporting most of it.

  7. V

    The probability of mad cow disease is slim. Basic regulation would take care of it. There is a legitimate food security concern over rice which would be unlikely to be replicated in Beef in a western European market. Existing food sources are heavily sourced abroad,veg, etc. In the effect of a supplier improving their trade position can only have a positive knock on effect for other customers, you receive a higher quality product. possibly for less, and a supplier will not stop supplying you unless the market collapses. The WTO works to prevent monopolies affecting the market. Subsidies are usually a dead weight loss but can provide temporary relief to lesser developed countries, but there is no denying the pain to farmers, Italian shoe makers, etc. who are on the other side. It all sounds fairly dry at the analytical level. I was working at a think tank recently, hoping for lots of interesting info on world economics so, over coffee on my first day, I asked the French guy in the cubicle next to me what he did, and he said ‘Sugar’. Those were the only four words we exchanged in the course of 2 months.

  8. Pete

    I do believe that Irish beef farmers should have to compete on the open market, but only on a level playing field. No-one, from any country, should be allowed to sell beef in the EU that does not comply with all EU rules, otherwise the rules become pointless and might as well be dropped.

    There is one recurring theme in this article and posts that puzzles me:
    >Since we need meat, a special subsidy was reintroduced
    > a country should be able to feed its own people.
    Erm, perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but in my world meat is a luxury. I don’t need it, and if it got too expensive I wouldn’t buy it. In fact, when times get tight it’s always been the first luxury I drop (beer is the last). If beef suddenly became unaffordable, no-one would die.

    >The largest recipient of subsidies in Ireland is the farm of Larry Goodman.
    The larget recipient in the EU is Queen Elizabeth of the UK. Clearly not a very fair system.

  9. graham

    For long enough the EU has been happy to dump excess meat and poultry on poorer developing countries at rock bottom prices, obliterating the local farming community with devastating consequences. Now all the european farmers whinge and moan when someone can produce beef cheaper than they can and wants to sell it here.

    To level the playing field, all farm subsidies must go, both in the EU and in the US. I’m not saying I agree with masses of Brazillian beef ending up on Irish plates. I think it’s ludicrous, just as importing sugar from tropically grown cane is, when we had ample sugarbeet here. With fuel prices soaring, for how long is it going to make sense to ship beef/sugar from South America to the EU. Yes it is a global economy, but giant monoculture farming, while very efficient, will always be a boom and bust industry, not to mention potentially devastating from an ecological standpoint.

  10. Sarah Post author

    Graham, I’m not sure what your point is there.
    If we have giant globalised monoculture farming, then that’s fine.
    But it mightn’t work anyway so feck it?
    The point is: if you let the monoculture giants dominate, then you’ve nothing left to fall back on if it does go bust.

  11. Electron

    Farmers can’t easily compete on the open market as they are in the primary sector of that industry and have to depend on processors and distributors to get to the open market. They’re cornered and this is the hub of their problems – the processors and distributors take the lions share of the profits and because it is such an old industry it’s not easy to break through to the end user. Farmers have been used and abused by these two secondary elements for eons and without some form of safety net, it’s simply too risky an enterprise to take on. If we could survive without food and water, we wouldn’t have to worry, but we can’t, so we have to treat farmers entirely differently to any other occupation.

  12. graham

    No Sarah, my point (although I guess I didn’t really clarify it) is that globalised monoculture doesn’t work in the long term and the consequences of it are devasting to both the human population (that make a living from it, locally at least) and the environment.

    Giant, industrialised farms are very efficient, but the costs to the environment (both long and short term) are just not worth it in my opinion, particularly for something like meat production.

    Many European countries are ideally suited to beef production, as is Argentina, but the large scale clearing of virgin forest to provide grassland for beef, or to provide space for soy (also Brazil) or palm oil (Indonesia/Malaysia) is very short sighted.

    I’m in favour of a much more localised approach to food production.

  13. City Dweller

    A farmer is a businessman with wellies. I don’t buy the notion that the industy is old nor is it vital. For a start it is a monumental waste of land and a disaster for the water course.

    Industrialised beef production is a resources and health. Both of the animal and the human.

    Having a few cattle that go to the mart may be an old industry but the wholesale slaughter didn’t begin until after World War 2 when refrigeration and the “lessons learned” from concentration camps were applied to farming.

    The reason farmers are protected is becasue they can be called on to vote one way or the other en masse.

    My heart bleeds for them.

  14. Sarah Post author

    “I don’t buy the notion that the industy is old nor is it vital. For a start it is a monumental waste of land and a disaster for the water course.”

    Riiiiiiight. Food production is a waste and a disaster. Maybe the replicator (ref: Star Trek Next Generation) will be invented and save the waste. Then we can use the land for its true purpose. The view.

  15. Electron

    City Dweller, if we follow your reasoning, we should tell all the Multinationals here that they’re a waste of resources and let the Chinese do it at a fraction of the cost. Does it matter where a computer is made, so long as it works. Then, when you’re at, why not move Banking, and similar services to low cost countries – the electricity and paper they use here is damaging our environment. Let’s have a free for all in all sectors and then see who’ll be whinging, unless, of course, you’re a civil servant.

  16. City Dweller

    It isn’t my reasoning. I stated with a link what I heard elsewhere.

    Messenger shot.

  17. Electron

    “Beef and dairy are social welfare for farmers” if you look at it that way, so is grant aid to Multinationals and expensive infrastructure for city dwellers – all come from the tax payer. They’re all hand outs, subsidy, dole or what ever you want to call them. Messenger has broad mind!

  18. City Dweller

    Grants to multinationals are welfare of sorts.

    Infrastructre I am not so sure about. In cities more than one person uses the infrastructure and is less selfish and costly than having a road, telephone, broadband, water and sewerage piped into one off houses in Daddys field.

    I am not attacking the way of life I am just pointing out the waste of intensive animal farming. I have no beef with farmers but the way they are going on isn’t very practical or sustainable into the future.

    I know the environment is inconvenient but we all have to live here. Maybe we might even leave a little bit for our kids and future generations but I doubt it.

  19. Gordon

    Intensive animal production is an abberration that only makes economic sense because we have allowed farmers to externalise the costs of the damage done to the environment, and the health of the consumer. However, the most intensive forms of production – pigs and chicken – are not heavily subsidised. They hae succeeded because of an extraordinarily lax attitude by national and european authorities to the health, sanitary and environmental damage done by these forms of production. At the origin, intensive farming benefitted from cheap imports of feedstuffs – following the initial negociations between the EU and the USA centred round the overly expensive policy of protecting European cereal farmers.

    From an economic point of view beef is now almost a subsidary product, left over from the real job of farmers which is to preserve a rural environment and a rural society that it is politically expedient to protect. That is what they get paid for. And why not… if we believe that it is important that the rural areas of Europe are polulated and that the landscape that farmers produce should be preserved – if only there was more emphasis on maintaining water quality!

    Lastly – there has been much talk of how we would still have a sugar beet industry without European intervention. The artificial creation of a sugar industry in Ireland was one of the most bizarre products of the post Civil War policy of economic autonomy. It was an economic and environmental nonsense, artificially preserved by subsidy, and enormously detrimental to the economic development of 3rd World countries. It was, however, a terrible policy decision to use the factory sites for yet more tawdry developments, rather than using the plant and the technical know-how to develop some kind of bio-fuel, probably based on the most appropriate crop in our climate – grass.

  20. Tomaltach

    Your point about the externalities of food production are well made. I’d make one comment here. As a percentage of income the price of food in rich western countries fell steadily and for a long period. The ‘consumer’ wanted cheaper food. Still wants cheaper food (though there is now an awareness of quality and environment issues, what % of say Irish food sales are organic). Basically the intensive, mechanised farm has given us cheap food leaving us with a big disposable income for our foreign holidays and our consumer goods. Sadly we cannot have it both ways. The same is true on the rather more complex issue where our socks are made in china. We want the cheap socks and shirts, but we dislike one of two side effects: one, the Chinese destroy our manufacturing jobs, or two, we feel guilty about the conditions of chinese workers. One or both of these, yet we still buy the socks (and shirts and toys and etc).

  21. City Dweller


    I have read what you wrote and fail to see any point being made.

    Farmers get subsidised to produce cheap beef. They are afraid of South American competition. Fair point. But my point was that the whole thing is unsustainable in the long run. Europe and South America.

  22. Niall

    Of course farmers are right to complain. Their income is threatened and it’s not as though there’s that many rich farmers in the country. They are severely handicapped by rules, quotas and regulations that have come about as a result of joining the EU, so they can’t really run their farms as businesses. If subsidies are cut without the relaxation of these rules, then many farmers will either go out of business (and what alternative to farming do these people have) or they’ll live in relative poverty.

    Biofuels are often sugesseted as an alternative. But this would hurt a large portion of the population by pushing up the prices of some of our basic food requirements.

  23. Electron

    Farming is the engine of our rural economy, without it, there wouldn’t be much happening. Our city dwellers are up their own and consume the lion share of the national income without making any effort to make a real contribution to the economy of our country – they have to get outsiders (Multinationals) to create jobs for them and then they lecture farmers who are an enterprising indigenous production group. There is something perverse about their attitude to the real world and in particular to their fellow productive countrymen. When our cowardly city dwellers with all their expensive qualifications, courtesy of taxpayer, create indigenous enterprises to replace the Multinationals, then farmers will be all ears – until then though , get off the stage.

  24. Gillian

    Sarah – I have recently discovered your blog, and have been reading this post with interest over the past few days. I wholeheartedly agree with the arguments you expressed in your post, and with the more ‘pro-rural’ posters. Farming is one of the few industries in Ireland where we actually produce something for export.
    Until a few years ago, I would have been quite ignorant of the realities of country living – I received my expensive tax-payer subsidised university education in Dublin, and lived and worked in the city. However, life being what it is, I met and married a man from ‘the country’. Now, we are in the lucky position to have a base in the city and also have a few acres in the country. Through this rural connection, my entire viewpoint of farmers and rural Ireland has totally changed. At university and afterwards, I would have been the first to talk about farmers ‘sponging’ subsidies and getting paid to do nothing. Now I see farmers working long hours I wouldn’t dream of working to produce crops / livestock at prices which are reflected in no way by what we are paying at the supermarket. Farmers are enterprising, hard working people who often hold down a second or third job. It saddens me to hear the bad-mouthing of farmers and unawareness / ignorance of the countryside that some of our urban friends display, particularly when I know that I would have fallen into that camp in my younger years.

  25. City Dweller

    I grew up in the sticks. My folks are from farming stock and one of them spent 40 years in the meat industry. Another family member is in the meat biz too. I have had my fair share of whinging farmers.

    Farmers do work long hours but putting in the hours doesn’t mean the work is worth doing. All that says is that the work is difficult. We are destroying water courses to provide people in other countries with cheap beef.

    I lived beside a massive farm in Meath and the stink of nitrogen and the eight foot high weeds in the rivers put me against farmers for life. Eight foot high weeds from the land being soaked with nitrates. Apart from nitrates by far the best way to kill a river is to dump slurry or milk in a river.

    Farming as a way of life and farming to make numbers for a quota or for some contrived system of guarenteed prices or whatever are not the same thing.

    I am aware of the countryside having grown up there but I am also aware of the attitude of farmers that they have a God given right to do what the the hell they like as they are the “fabric” of the community. If farmers gave a shite about the community they would have to become member of the community and not attack the environment and possibly preserve it for future generations.

  26. Electron

    As with all expanding productive enterprises in the past, some environmental damage from farming was inevitable, but that has all now changed as regulations are being rigidly enforced. Look at our Industrialised neighbours, their environments were devastated for decades before workable regulations were put in place.
    The problems of the past are no reason to shut down the countryside of the present. Irish Farmers would have no problem competing with South American beef, provided our parasitic city dwellers would reduce their professional fees and prices to that of Brazil – but no, as always, they’ll continue to extract most and contribute least.

  27. L C

    When I shop at the supermarket, I see long cases of meat and poultry produced by large scale industrial farming techniques. The prices are low and the meat is good looking. I choose not to purchase my meat products at the market because I know the meat has been produced without personal care and attention to the welfare of the animals. I know it has been shipped from thousands of miles away, uses a huge amount of our natural resources in the process and doesn’t taste as good as locally produced meat. I buy my meat from a man named John. I’ve been to his farm; I’ve seen how the animals are cared for, I’ve seen his process for slaughter. He isn’t doing anything different than a farmer would have 75-100 years ago and he’s earning a good living without exporting, without subsidies and by selling his product in a 100 mile range of where it is produced. He sells at his farm; he supplies natural food stores and several restaurants. He has strong competition from other small producers and he must run his farm in compliance with very strict environmental laws. He’s been able to make a good living because he has taken a great deal of time to educate the public about the quality of his product.
    Last fall I got a call from the son of another farmer I know. He’s in collage and is paying his way by raising a few pigs. I bought half of one and had a small, local butcher cut it the way I wanted it done. Ultimately the price per pound was just about what I would have paid at the supermarket for a product that was far superior. Purchasing meat this way takes time to negotiate; it takes a freezer for storage and it takes getting to know people. I may be simplifying things but the way I see it – consumers are uneducated (and perhaps a bit lazy). They are uneducated because that’s how the large scale producers want it. The average person doesn’t understand the process of small scale farming; they don’t understand the benefits and they don’t know how to develop relationships with farmers. “Milk doesn’t come from a cow, it comes from a carton” mentality. We can laugh at them, we can be mad at them or we can educate them. Small scale farmers cannot compete with industrialized food production. They don’t have to. What they MUST do in order to survive is work together in marketing their products to consumers who care. Oh, and just for reference – I’m a city girl with a 60hr a week not much pay job, a teenager, a messy house and not a whole lot of spare time. The first time I ever met a farmer was about 7 years ago at our local Farmers Market Day. If I can do it, anyone can.

  28. Sarah Post author

    Well not in Europe they can’t.

    Many years ago our local butcher killed our lambs and cut them according to my mother’s instructions and it was stored in a big freezer. Now butchers can’t actually butcher anymore. All animals have to be killed in proper abbatoirs and their remains disposed of according to strict regulation.

    We buy from our local butcher and not the supermarket, but you are correct about consumers – a lot don’t care – they just want cheap meat.

    By the way, if you are writing from the US your famers are subsidised a lot more than European ones.

  29. leon

    mandelson has a brazilian catamite. or maybe a brazilian has a mandelson catamite. Does the catamite own a beef farm. I think we should be told.

  30. Gillian

    Nitrates and other environmental problems have of course been a problem associated with farming in the past. However, legislation such as the Nitrates Directive and schemes such as REPS have gone a long way towards ensuring farming is cleaner and greener now than it has been since the start of industrialised agriculture.
    Farmers are forced to maximise their output per acre in order to survive – to produce meat as cheaply as possible. Unfortunately fertilisers and chemicals are the most effective way of doing this.
    There is so much regulation now in our food industry, which is a good thing in many ways, but which does push the small scale producer to the wall. Many innovative farmers are going into organic production or selling directly to their customers, which is a good thing.
    A lot of people seem to have a lot of chips on their shoulders about the rural community – I don’t know why, but the urban/rural divide is alive and well.

  31. L.C.

    Sarah, I am posting from the U.S. Not all farmers have their pockets lined by U.S. government subsidies. Many of our local, organic farmers don’t believe in accepting money to grow government mandated products that don’t contribute to the overall health of our community. There are many, many strings attached to taking money from our government – akin to selling your soul to the devil.
    There are very distinct differences in the U.S. between farmers “growing for profit” and farmers growing for the betterment of their own lives and the strength/health of their community. Ironically, in our area, it’s the farmers growing for “profit” that are struggling the most financially. As for the small scale butcher/abbatoir, heavy regulation has driven all but the most dedicated out of the business.

  32. graham

    The EU directives to prevent contamination of rivers from nitrates etc has not been fully implemented and regulated in Ireland, we get fined for this every year. Every summer there is widespread poisoning of rivers throughout the country as a result. Farming can be wonderfully productive and friendly to the environment, but it is not always so. Thats not to say that all farmers are neglecting the environment, they most certainly are not. Farming as a way of life is incredibly hard and should be valued as an important part of not just rural communities, but of society as a whole.

  33. Electron

    Graham, farming must be valued as an important part of our society, otherwise we’ll return to a countryside resembling the middle ages. This Irish urban attitude to farming and rural life is so immature that it doesn’t deserve serious comment. Look at the decentralisation fiasco – oh no! – they don’t want to leave the nice cosy lifestyle of Dublin – to hell with the concept of nation and the welfare of their fellow citizens. The worrying aspect of all this, is, that they are effectively dependent on the whims foreign Multinationals and because of the cosy living, they’ve now lost the backbone to do anything for themselves. Farming is the real backbone of this country and it must take all necessary steps to protect that position – farmers can’t afford to entrust their future to spineless urbanites.

  34. Sarah Post author

    “The EU directives to prevent contamination of rivers from nitrates etc has not been fully implemented and regulated in Ireland, we get fined for this every year. Every summer there is widespread poisoning of rivers throughout the country as a result.”

    Good reason to vote yes! Strengthen Europe’s power to keep manners on us.

  35. graham

    Electron, given the way Irish rivers and land has been so badly contaminated in the past, if things don’t change quickly we’ll end up with a courtyside that’s barren and lifeless. Don’t even get me started on the poisoning of the reintroduced sea eagles.

    “the concept of nation and the welfare of their fellow citizens”
    Shouldn’t this be bidirectional?
    Decentralisation was a ridiculous idea from the start, engineered solely to get votes in certain constituencies. Why would you expect people who have made their lives in one place to want to up and move to another? Being dependent on the whims of multinationals or a shortsighted government, I don’t see the difference.

    And speaking of dependency on multinationals. Have you never left rural Ireland? Do you assume that everyone in Irish urban centres works for a multinational? There are other sources of employment!

    “farmers can’t afford to entrust their future to spineless urbanites”
    Many of the spineless urbanites (I don’t see why you feel the need to call people spineless, but I guess you’re angry or something) you refer to grew up in rural Ireland and only moved to the urban centres for university and work.

    The problem in Ireland is that for far too long, vast regions of the country have been at the mercy of some farmers who have been only too willing to forsake the health of the environment for a quick profit.

  36. Sarah Post author

    While the EU did have the subsidy system, it is now the EU that compels farmers to adopt good practice. A good reason to vote Yes?

  37. Electron

    Graham, no, I live in the cosy capital, but my business interests are based in the rural community of my youth. City dwellers get up my nose with their dismissive attitude towards farmers and think that the countryside should be there for their recreational use only. They don’t seem to realise that without continuous attention, the countryside would revert back to being a wilderness – in other words they’re living in a bubble and couldn’t care a damn about the fate of rural communities. McGreevy’s decentralisation was a good idea – I can’t stand his party – but I have to say, that he has the necessary eccentricity for original thought – Cowen, on the other hand, is only a follower, not an original thought in his head. Moving parts of the administration to rural areas is perfectly in tune with developments in modern communications and would have been a great boost to these struggling communities – a real distribution of the national cake. As for people moving, if they worked for large companies they would have to move, so why should it be different for civil servants.
    As for dependency on multinationals – It’s an overview of our economy – if they all vanished tomorrow morning the economy would collapse – look at who’s behind our exports. You may not be employed by one, but your job effectively depends on their presence. A look at our stats. shows up the famous black hole – why is everyone just sitting around and looking at it – someone should be trying to plug it. With ten to fifteen years experience with there companies, why aren’t we trying to apply what we’ve learnt from them and do it for ourselves. No, they’d rather let it all pass by and pick on the only real home grown industry we got – farming.

  38. Jer

    Thanks for quite a detailed debate on the WTO and the future of farming. Like any other major sector in the country it needs to be supported. Of all the thinhs that we produce in this country the agri sector is king when it comes to employment and while various multi nationals may up sticks and go east the farming sector obviously cant. It will only be destroyed if we allow it and I dont think we can allow 150,000 jobs to go so easily.

  39. Niall

    Personally, I thought decentalisation was a great idea, they just made ridiculous decisions when it came to drawing up the timetables. 10-15 years would have been realistic for complete decentralisation. It was probably a mistake and something of an injustice to locate so many civil service jobs in Dublin to begin with.

    Some of the country’s most valuable real estate is occupied by departmental offices. The sooner we can move those departments to cheaper offices and sell on the sites to commercial interests the better.

  40. ter

    being a farmer im delighted that one of our city cousins like us

  41. graham

    Electron, my job doesn’t depend on the presence of multinationals in Ireland in any way, but thats beside the point. Complaining that multinationals are bad and touting farming as the only homegrown thing in Ireland doesn’t change the facts on the ground. You can whinge all you want about city dwellers not understanding the farming way of life, but you yourself have moved to the city. Are you a spineless city dweller now too, or does that only relate to everyone else in the city?
    In case you hadn’t realised, Tourism is a vitally important source of income to our economy and we are all far more dependant on it that we may believe. Rural communities could do far better from tourism than from decentralisation, since tourism wouldn’t necessarily just target a few rural towns in specific constituencies. However, what have we seen with respect to tourism in rural Ireland? Ridiculous planning on the part of county councils, permission given to awful holiday villages which in no way reflect the realities of rural life in Ireland that tourists might want to experience and once again the contamination and destruction of important habitats.
    It’s important also to remember that local and national government have been happy to turn a blind eye to this kind of destruction, in fact they have even helped to encourage it. Many of the roads and bypasses that have been built over the past decade have been built using material from illegal quarries. People, a small number admittedly, have made hundreds of millions of euro at the expense of the landscape and the taxpayer.

    The rural landscape is a productive one and should not be preserved for the leisure of city dwellers. But that doesn’t mean it should be destroyed for the profits of a few well connected rural landowners either.

  42. Electron

    Graham, I never said that I dislike Multinationals – I merely wanted to point out the dangers on sitting back and assuming that they’ll be here for ever. They’re here for three reasons – a) access to the European Market, b) a suitable workforce force, c) favourable tax regime. Both (a) and (b) are no longer relevant in an expanded Europe and (c) remains our only card for the ones already here. Tourism is fine, but its still no substitute for the Multinationals. The government is trying to promote indigenous companies, but there is only so much that they can do – the drive has to come from the public itself and those working for multinationals are the most suitable from an experience point of view. They appear to want to sit on their qualifications and let someone else take the risks – in common language ” there’s no go in them” – They are, however, first up to make fun of farmers who take risks everyday. As for myself, I made the leap

  43. b

    I agree with Electron. I don’t work for a multinational nor do I work as a farmer. I take the risk and if the work comes I take it.

    In the past week we lost a big client and gained another one. In other times we are not so lucky. I got out of the corporate world and despite the massive swings in work and income I would never go back.

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