Thursday, 12 May 2022
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Security: Statements
Peadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
Food security is dependent on economically viable farms. If there is anything to be taken away from this debate it should be that point. Food security is also dependent on economically viable fishermen. There was talk earlier about the need for signs to go up in people's offices. If that sign was in the Minister's office and he delivered on his job when it comes to that sentence alone, he would have delivered successfully as a Minister. We need to have viable farms.
One third of farmers are economically viable, another one third are only viable because somebody is working off the farm and the final third are going into debt or poverty at the moment. Those are Teagasc's figures for that. Farmers are being hit radically by increases in costs. The cost of fertiliser has increased by 130% and the Government is doing nothing to protect those farmers. That increase in input costs will lead to increased prices of outputs over the coming year which will then turn into food inflation for families who are already struggling with the cost of living. We are asking the Minister to subsidise the cost of fertiliser to take the pressure off farmers.
The primary component of food security is farmers' ability to earn a living. This is especially so because between Covid and the war in Ukraine we have learned that international supply chains are not stable. Food staples are becoming really difficult to find in certain parts of the world. Britain has started to ration sunflower oil. Who would have thought two or three years ago that such a staple would be rationed? In a few years' time, particular staples could become very expensive or very rare. People who are not able to afford those foods could end up going without those foods or suffer food poverty as a result.
The Government and the European Commission must make it very clear that farmers will be supported to allow them to remain viable. At the moment that has not been the case. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have let farmers down in terms of the price of beef and other foodstuffs over recent years. The price of beef has increased because of international markets, but for a number of years the Government agreed that farmers should sell below the production cost of beef. I listened to the Minister state that at the last meeting of the agriculture committee.
It is ludicrous that fishermen need to weigh their catches at the ports. The fishermen coming in from stormy weather have to unload their fish after they have gutted and iced them. They then have to weigh the catch at the quay, re-box it, bring it 200 yards and weigh it a second time. Other European countries are not doing this at their quays because it is a stupid rule which needs to be opposed by the Government. It is unfair on fisherman and leading to the unviability of the fishing industry, which is another threat to our food security in the future.