Thursday, 19 January 2023
Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important legislation. I have listened attentively to the speeches made by colleagues.
It is a timely intervention by the Minister to introduce this legislation. I am not sure it will do the job that we expect it to do. This is an indigenous industry that is self-sufficient. It kept this country going at times when there was nothing else going for it. There is a tendency in recent times to believe that there are alternatives. There are alternatives, but we do not like them.
Like other speakers, I am deeply suspicious of the use of vulture funds to intervene. I cite the case of the sugar beet industry, which was a vibrant entity. All of a sudden, we were told that we are not going to produce sugar in the future. Who told us that? We were told that the rest of Europe was doing the same. The rest of Europe did not do the same. Our nearest neighbours continued to successfully produce sugar beet for the manufacture of sugar. Other countries throughout Europe did the same time. I do not know why we should have gone down that road, but it was a mistake because it was a rotational crop that was beneficial to the soil and to regenerating the fertility of the soil and it was very important.
The Bill is necessary, but I am worried as to whether it is sufficiently strong to do the job that is required, such as protecting the producers and ensuring that consumers have a fair deal by having a supply. The carrot was held out to the producers in regard to the sugar beet industry - €177 million. One could not beat that. One could call it a sell-out or a buy-out, whichever way one wants to look at it. Of course they did not get it; it went to the processors, who took it gratefully and walked away.
I fully support the proposal that we must engage and meet climate change requirements. That is important. The rural and farming community has been doing that for years, but nobody identified it. They kept the necessary balance. I am worried that we could find ourselves in conflict between agriculture and the necessity to reduce carbon emissions. Both are necessary. Both must proceed in balance, along with each other, not one at the cost of the other. I hear talk of rewilding, but enough of this country is wild already. Enough of it is forlorn, desolate and wild. There are many thousands of acres of such land across the country. Those of us who come from rural Ireland know that full well. Much of it is not productive or arable and people trying to eke out an existence on it find themselves challenged on a regular basis. What I suggest in regard to rewilding, which is an important issue that must be addressed now, is that no arable land would be used where that is possible. We must maintain the food chain; we must live; and we must eat. We may well be required to produce more food in the future because I believe the next crisis will be a food crisis. We should know about that from the difficulties experienced in transporting food from different parts of the world. There are those who will say that we can get our food from elsewhere. The answer to that is we cannot. We would arrive at the end of the queue and like everybody else, we would have to wait.
I am not opposed to people making a profit. That is their entitlement. Everybody wants to make a profit. If one goes to work, one needs to make a profit. Otherwise, there is not much sense in going to work. I resent being told by multinational corporations such as vulture funds that they have the answer to our problems. Coillte has a bit of a history in this area. It is not so many years ago since it proposed to develop some of the forests for different reasons, sell off large tracts of them and build large houses for select people. We may have forgotten that, but it is still a fact of life.
It was at that, and was proceeding down that road. It was ridiculous and daft in the extreme.
I support the Bill. It is necessary. The Minister has achieved a balance between the environment and doing whatever can be done in that respect and the necessity to ensure that we do not close down the food producing sector. It would be taken up by competitors from all over the world who, very soon, would tell us that we should pay for our food because the sources have changed. While we have resources and the ability to produce at home, we need to nurture that and give guarantees insofar as we can. We need to give context, wherever possible, to achieve some degree of continuity and security and encourage the food producing sector to continue to produce food. If we do not continue to produce food, we may be left waiting. Like other speakers, I would love to speak for a lot longer but this is the way it is.