"The red meat industry is coming under increasing pressure from a variety of threats. The biggest threats are the lack of profitability and unsustainable businesses, not to mention the shambles that is Brexit and the damage it could cause. The concerns were evident and raised last week at the Irish Farmers Journal beef summit at which many in the industry said they were at their wits' end and struggling to work out from where or when the rays of light of hope would emerge. It is comforting to learn this morning that the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, has announced a €50 million package to assist the industry to incentivise and encourage it to navigate its way through these very challenging times. This presents the Government with an opportunity to raise an additional €200 million. The package is both welcome and timely, but it is probably not going to be a panacea or a silver bullet for the industry because, whether we like to admit it, the agricultural system is broken. Farmers and families are working longer, harder and faster for less and less and for meagre incomes.
What are the challenges? The environment is one and we will not win the discussion by fighting with our critics. Those involved in agriculture will have to make their points and substantiate their claims to promote its merits and advantages. Another challenge is presented by in vitro meat. Laboratory grown meat is becoming a source of huge concern. One of the biggest food companies in the world, Cargill, has invested heavily in it; Memphis Meats is involved in it, while Richard Branson also invested millions in it. In this morning's edition of The Irish Times there is a headline that future food production could be animal, vegetable or cell. Vegetarianism and veganism, having started from a low base, are now significant. People come to them from a plethora of positions, including animal welfare and environmental concerns which I do not think are new. A few days ago I came across a press cutting dating from 2007 in which concerns were expressed about the dairy industry. It could easily have been written today, 12 years later, by just changing some of the names. The problems have not actually changed. The front page of the Irish Farmers Journal in March 1957 carried headlines about the bacon sector being in the doldrums, the possibility of cattle becoming scarce, beef prices and concerns about carcase quality. These issues are as relevant today as they were 62 years ago. The industry must be market-forced, consumer-led and demand-driven. We need a sustainable agricultural system in the absence of the support mechanisms which have come to be seen as the Holy Grail. There is a need for integration and the adoption of technology and efficiency measures to harvest data to make informed decisions. Doris Day passed away this week, aged 97 years. She made famous the song "Que Será Será" which includes the lines:
Que será será,
Whatever will be will be,
The future's not ours to see,
Que será será.
Those words ring true. The future is definitely not ours to see, but we must be prepared. We must counteract the lies and myths. We need to sell the industry on its merits. Those involved in it have to work together with academia and the Government to ensure we will embrace change."
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