The decision by the EU to exclude beef from internal promotion funding is a further blow to livestock farming.

It builds on the Farm to Fork strategy that has prioritised virtually everything ahead of production when it comes to livestock.

This is further added to by national government policy in member states, with the Netherlands looking to reduce the number of farmers and Germany with the ambition to increase organic farming threefold to 30%.

What this means is that grassland becomes devalued as a source of feed for livestock in the traditional sense, though with external financial support can be productive for other uses, ranging from energy production to leisure and tourist pursuits.

By making it more difficult to produce meat from grassland, the production side is controlled and the linkage of consumption with cancer is a disincentive from the consumer end.

Cancer link

This link is tenuous, applicable where consumption is excessive and at levels well beyond what is typically consumed in Ireland and most EU countries.

Professor Alice Stanton from the Royal College of Surgeons addressed this in an industry presentation.

She highlighted in Farm to Fork identified: “It is estimated that in the EU in 2017, over 950,000 deaths (one out of five) and over 16 million lost healthy life were attributable to unhealthy diets, mainly cardiovascular diseases and cancers.”

What the report did not focus on, she said, was that less than 2% of those deaths are possibly due to excess red meat and processed meat consumption.

The same theme was continued through the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan. In it, the commission flags up its “review of the promotion policy for agricultural products, with a view to enhancing its contribution to sustainable production and consumption, and in line with the shift to a more plant-based diet, with less red and processed meat and other foods linked to cancer risks and more fruit and vegetables”.

Again, Professor Stanton points out that less than 2% of all cancers are linked to red meat and processed meat.

Action will move elsewhere in the world

Squeezing the production side of pasture farming, combined with creation of consumer hostility to the product, suggests a diminishing market in the EU.

However, the EU is just one part of the globe. It has – similar to most of the developed world – reached the point of peak meat where consumers have reached peak annual consumption. Future growth in consumption and demand will be driven by the rate of increase in demand from African and Asian developing economies.

China has transformed global meat markets in the last decade, moving from importing negligible quantities to accounting for 20% of all beef traded in international markets.

There is further growth potential in Asia - in Japan immediately and in years to come in South Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. There will also be gaps in the EU as countries reduce production.

The global beef market of the next decade will be shaped outside of Europe as the EU increasingly opts out of production in favour of alternative land uses to food production.