Brazil’s ‘rotten meat’ scandal gives the local meat industry a perfect opportunity to highlight the quality of the food produced on a daily basis here in Northern Ireland.
And, in so doing, the clear message should also be communicated that cheap and quality food are not one in the same thing.
The reality is that consumers in this part of the world don’t know how lucky they are in having such a high quality livestock industry on their doorsteps. The Farm Quality Assurance Scheme and other related measures, including Red Tractor, guarantee full traceability, animal welfare, conservation and the highest environmental protection standards.
The only problem is that local farmers do not get fully compensated – by way of the market – for the immense investment they have undertaken in making all of this a reality. It has suited Europe’s purposes well to push a cheap food agenda over the past 50 years. The theory is a very simple one: it makes consumers happy! But the sad reality is that the CAP payments available to farmers do not make up for the shortfall in returns which primary producers have to endure, year-in: year-out.
There was always a discrepancy between what the market offers farmers and the support monies available to them. And this gap is set to grow as the UK government considers its future support options for agriculture.
The market must deliver realistic returns for primary producers. EU farm commissioner Phil Hogan has made no secret of the fact that he wants more balance brought to bear within Europe’s agri food chain. This, one assumes, is code for delivering a higher proportion of the retail returns that are generated back down the line to the primary producer.
Big Phil has been in office for two years now, so it’s time for him to deliver on this commitment. And he now has a golden opportunity to really kick start this process, courtesy of what has happened in Brazil. I know that crises, such as Foot and Mouth disease and Avian Flu outbreaks, can crop up with no warning at all. But these are issues that farmers have no control over.
Fundamentally, Europe has an exemplary track record when it comes to producing food of the highest quality. So why doesn’t the commissioner take the opportunity of broadcasting this ‘good news’ story to the world over the coming days.