Our food is more than a "commodity"

The question must be asked, are those MEPs, national politicians and Farmers’ Organisation leaders who are now wringing their hands at the prospect of a deal with the Mercosur bloc, incompetent, naive or simply hypocritical?

These are the same people who have driven the agenda of globalization of agriculture, of a cheap food policy, of pitting Irish and EU farmers against their counterparts in the USA, Canada and in the southern hemisphere.

As they cheer on CETA, TTIP (in cold storage now, but no thanks to the EU), and FTAs with Japan, did they really believe that the gluttonous eyes of international business were going to turn away from the biggest prize off all, a deal with the Mercosur bloc?

The Mercosur bloc, which comprises Brazil, Argentina Paraguay and Uruguay, is a huge producer of agricultural produce, benefiting from vast economies of scale, migrant labour, questionable animal welfare, environmental and phytosanitary standards.

The EU manufacturing sector has long viewed the South America bloc as a prime export market for their automobile, heavy machinery and pharmaceutical industries, and are quite willing to trade off our agricultural sector to gain access to what they see as a lucrative market. The social consequences are of no concern to them. The proposed deal will see an extra 70,000 tons of beef come into the EU, which will have devastating consequences for our beef industry. To put it in context, the quota would exceed the total quantity of high-value cuts from cattle slaughtered in Ireland for the entire year. 

I have not supported CETA, TTIP and will oppose the upcoming FTAs with Australia and New Zealand. All these regions are self-sufficient in food production. It is the ultimate in hypocrisy to be advocating these type of deals, replacing grass-fed cattle from Europe with beef from South American feedlots, similar food products being shipped halfway around the globe and meeting each other in the high seas in passing, burning up vast quantities of fuel, while berating the farming community at local level for not doing enough to mitigate climate change.

Equally hypocritical are the MEPs and others at national level playing to a national audience, lining up and pretending to oppose the Mercosur deal.

MEPs in the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) in the EU Parliament have consistently and enthusiastically supported this type of deal. As the biggest grouping in the parliament, if they were genuine and sincere in their opposition they could do something about it.

Our own Commissioner Hogan (also from the Fine Gael/EPP family) is also in a position of influence but he has chosen to mislead us. Earlier this year, speaking of Mercosur, he stated that “beef was off the agenda”; now, thanks to Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, we know it is very much on the menu, Commissioner siding with the multinationals against his own.

As for our own government, probably the biggest cheerleaders of all in the EU for these deals, the weak response from Taoiseach Varadkar shows he will pay only lip service to opposing this deal; if he was serious he would threaten to veto the Mercosur deal if it doesn’t address all our concerns, when it comes before the Dáil.

I am calling again, as I have called before, for agriculture to be taken out of this deal – in fact it shouldn’t be part of any ‘free trade’ deal. It is too important an issue to be left solely to the greed of multinationals.

Trade between nations is undoubtedly beneficial and necessary, but the mantra of ‘free trade is above all’ must be challenged,  the idea that social and environmental concerns are secondary. The provision of our food is wrapped up in a complex equation of food production, land management, environmental protection, provision of public goods and social needs and cannot be viewed in a one-dimensional manner, a commodity to be produced at the lowest cost possible.

Food production is our life-blood; we should treat it as such.