Ireland’s farmers have a “serious role to play” on environmental action and cannot consider the carbon leakage argument as letting them off the hook, Green MEP Grace O’Sullivan maintains.
O’Sullivan told the Irish Farmers Journal in Brussels that family farms should see climate action “as an opportunity” and that the agri-food sector should move away from an export-orientated model.
“I know sometimes we hear it used from some of the farming agencies that ‘Ireland needs to feed the world’, but we have no international commitment to feed the world,” O’Sullivan said.
“What we need to do is feed our own people, our own communities, recognise we are part of the EU single market. We have huge opportunities within the EU to trade very well.”
When challenged on this stance by Ireland having higher environmental standards than other agri-food exporters, the MEP replied that the sector should “look at our own field and make sure our own field is in proper order before making assertions about other countries”.
She added that “instead of feeding powder milk to China, maybe we need to feed our own and in a healthy way”.
Some farm payments in firing line
O’Sullivan also argued there is a need to cut out farm payments which do not contribute to environmental goals, saying that her view is backed by the European Commission, which is currently working on a definition of what will classify as an “environmental harmful subsidy”.
“It can’t all be one way. You can’t expect farm payments and expect some responsibility in return to the public who are supporting the production of food,” she said.
Organic payments were cited as an example of where farmers can turn to benefit from working with the environment.
The Commission has already pledged to phase out environmental harmful subsidies across all sectors of the economy, but no clear timeframe has been set for doing so.
It had identified the €100m Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) opened in 2019 as possibly falling under the definition.
Other farm schemes currently running in other member states have been flagged as potentially landing on the chopping block too.
These include reductions in VAT on fertiliser, excise reductions for agri-diesel and livestock premia, such as the ewe premium paid in Malta.