Last week was the first time that I was told directly by a person with real experience at the coal face of European policy that there is now a widely shared view that livestock farming is intrinsically undesirable.
While some of these opponents of livestock farming will talk about questionable environmental effects and animal welfare issues, the real basis of the objections is deeply philosophical. The whole moral basis of keeping animals to enhance human wellbeing is now regarded by significant numbers of European legislators and electors as deeply suspect.
This is probably the first time in human history that this attitude is influencing politicians in how they use their position.
Elsewhere, we report on Dr Jack Bobo’s presentation at the lecture held by the Guild of Agricultural Journalists in memory of the late Michael Dillon. As director of the US nature conservancy council, Dr Bobo made the valid point that food production inevitably has an effect on the environment.
After all, farming is by definition about modifying nature to produce food for humanity. As farmers, we have successfully fed an ever increasing world population with ever increasing success, by the application of knowledge generated by research carried out by scientists and by practising farmers.
Down the centuries, animal products have been an intrinsic part of the human diet. It was assumed that they formed an essential part of a nutritious meal. It is much more recent that the nutritional value and human health benefits of consuming animal products appropriately have been fully realised.
Hugely reputable nutritionists, academics and medical specialists have spelled out in great detail the benefits of red meat – especially for children’s cognitive development, while older people are medically steered toward protein-rich lean meat and cheeses as well as osteoporosis controlling dairy products. But we have seen really determined, misleading campaigns to distort these facts in an effort to reduce or eliminate the consumption of animal products.
Irish farmers and the wider economy have a real incentive to stand back and assess how the current political momentum can be reversed. Crops only occupy about 7 - 8% of our land, and without grass consuming ruminants converting this indigestible material into highly beneficial food, the land would become derelict and we would become even more dependent on grain-produced meat and milk.
The real challenge is for farm organisations, specialist medical nutritionists and balanced politicians to form a new alliance to counter the new and misleading negativity around the consumption of animal products.