Senator Ian Marshall:
Many Senators have spoken about the farmers' protests that are going on outside Leinster House. Senator McDowell has referred to the need to be "truthful". The agricultural system, as we know it, is broken. I am not surprised that farmers are on the street because they are running faster and faster just to stand still. Food is cheap. As consumers, we have to acknowledge that we are paying too little for food. I will give the House some figures in support of my contention. People in the UK and Ireland spend approximately 9% of their disposable income on food. The European average is approximately 14%. French people spend almost twice as much of their disposable income on food. We must be under no illusions about the fact that cheap food is part of this problem. It is not solely about pricing. We have all spoken about the three pillars of sustainability. We all know about economic, social and environmental sustainability. Farmers are working tirelessly on a daily basis to ensure they produce food as efficiently as they can. We need to develop systems that will reduce losses. Most of all, we need to help the agriculture industry to develop robust and healthy animals, genetics to reduce waste, precision farming and positive welfare attributes. They need support. It is not all bad. I am frustrated by the continual bad news stories that are coming from the industry as it comes under immense pressure from animal welfare groups and environmentalists. I will give the House some statistics that were shared with me yesterday. We need to stop beating our farmers up because they are doing a good job."
In 2007, it took 35% less water, 23% less food, 21% less livestock, 11% less land, 56% less nitrous oxide, 43% less methane and 24% less manure to produce a litre of milk than it did in 1944.
Those guys are doing a good job and are getting better and better, but we keep beating up on them. We need some systems thinking. We need the Government, farmers, industry and consumers, in conjunction with research and academic, working together. To make changes and stop these farmers taking to the streets, we will have to address a broken agricultural system.
I thank the 20 or 21 Members-----
It was 21 Members.
-----of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. Senators Ardagh, Hackett, Conway-Walsh, Mulherin, Boyhan, Bacik, Gallagher, Craughwell, Norris, Ó Céidigh, McDowell and Marshall all raised the issue of the farming protest. Senator Marshall's final comments are probably the most pertinent of all the contributions made this morning, especially his reference to working together. There is much positivity, as well as many challenges, in the farming sector. Working together, however, we can fix the system.
It is important for Members on the Opposition benches to remember that they do not have a monopoly on empathy, concern or frustration. All of us either live or work in farming communities or have family members who do. We understand, at first-hand, the challenges faced every day by farmers. Let us make a few things clear, however. The Government has no role in the pricing of the beef market. That is not its duty. We all understand the frustration and anger felt by farmers. The Minister went out and met some of the protestors this morning. Senator Ardagh mentioned the issue of death threats. The Minister commented on that matter during parliamentary questions in the Dáil this morning and it is important that that is recognised.
It is also important to recognise that the protests today are not supported by the main farming organisations. Equally, the beef industry should lift the injunctions that are in place. All of us want to see farmers receive a legitimate price for their produce. I am surprised that Senator Ardagh is only going to her local butcher now. We should all be going to our local butchers all of the time, because those are the people we should be supporting. We should shop locally in our own small way in our own small communities. The issue at stake concerns finding a solution, but it works both ways. The Government has intervened. I could read a whole list of Government interventions to support the beef industry, including in the area of beef genomics, beef development efficiency, beef environmental efficiency, exceptional aid to beef farmers, restoration of the areas of natural constraint scheme and the €85 million targeted support scheme. That all exists.
As Senator Marshall correctly stated, however, there is a role for everybody to work in collaboration. That includes Meat Industry Ireland, MII. I do not fly a flag for that organisation at all and that organisation should arrange for the injunctions to be lifted. I am happy to have a debate on the beef industry, and on our Government's role in that sector as well as in farming more generally. There is positivity, but that works both ways. Coming into this House, however, and naming people does not help. All of us want to find a solution that will allow the beef industry and the farmers to rise because we all understand the frustration and toil required to bring an animal to market. We also understand the segmentation of that market. I am happy to have that debate. When I hear Members speak about markets, I do not fly a flag for China, as Senator Wilson knows. I heard Senator McDowell commenting on China when it was his Government, the Government in which he was the Attorney General, that adopted the Asian strategy under former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. That was signed off when Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were in government and Senator McDowell was the Attorney General in that Government. Was he missing in the corner office at the time?
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