The voice of farmers and agriculture at European level is being squeezed and often lost in policy debates, Irish MEP Colm Markey has warned.
Markey, who runs a 300-cow dairy farm in Co Louth, is a relatively new MEP having taken over from Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness who moved into the role of European Commissioner.
He said he was “surprised” at just how strong the green movement is at European level and in the European Parliament.
“It’s an incredibly populist green agenda in the Parliament, a lot of it is not realistic,” he told a Young Fine Gael webinar on Friday.
He said if agriculture did not lead from the front on environmental and climate issues, it would be led by those who lacked a full understanding of the sector.
Formerly the sole responsibility of the agriculture committee in the Parliament, agricultural policy is now shaped by the environment and trade committees too, Markey said.
He said there were many MEPs within the Parliament who were driven by the ideology that “anything intensive is bad, and anything extensive is good”. These views were beginning to appear in CAP reform and the Farm to Fork strategy, he said.
Markey believes that intensive agriculture has a part to play.
He said decommissioning agricultural production in Europe would lead to it moving to less environmental friendly regions. Food production has almost been written out of the policy debate with environmental protection taking its place, he warned.
Dr Helen Sheridan, a UCD lecturer in agricultural ecology, also spoke on the night. She explained that agriculture has helped shape the Irish landscape over 6,000 years.
“Agriculture and farmers don’t just produce food, they produce a whole range of ecosystem services,” she said.
However, she added that agriculture was mutually dependent on those ecosystem services and compromising those would compromise the ability to produce food.