Speaking to the Farming Independent during last week’s Agri-food trade mission to China, he said it was sustainable for food to be shipped from Ireland to China despite the vast geographic distance between the two countries.
“Trade with other countries will continue to be a really strong aspect of the Irish agri-food sector and one I think which will become increasingly valuable because we’ve also seen it become more challenging in various parts of the world to produce food and is therefore really important that we maximize and utilize our capacity to produce it and ensure that it’s made available,” he said.
When asked about recent comments from Marie Donnelly, chairperson of the climate change Advisory Council that companies making sustainability claims but not counting emissions outside the factory gate are, in effect, greenwashing, Minister McConalogue said, “Well, it’s not greenwashing that Ireland has massive (amounts of) food produced sustainably in a way that compares more favourably I think, than almost any country in the world.
“That grass-based production system that is real.
However, he said that doesn’t mean more cannot be done to reduce emissions, something which he said the Government and all of our companies are very committed to and understand.
In relation to the current focus on food prices, he said the Government wants to ensure that farmers are properly rewarded, yet he said it is important that consumers are getting ‘good value’.
“Those are two things that can be consistent with one another,” he claimed, adding that the Government was clear at the retailers’ forum last week that as inflation rates in food come down, consumers should see that benefit.
When questioned on his view of recent reports that farmers are afraid of Sinn Fein in Government, McConalogue said he doesn’t particularly focus on other parties and said farmers “need not look to Sinn Fein or anyone else because they have in Fianna Fail a farmers party in government and… a government that is delivering for family farms.”
However, he did not rule out Fianna Fail going into Government with Sinn Fein, but said it would be “a matter for the next general election campaign”.
On recent criticisms from Macra, that he had formed a definition of the ‘family farm’ by excluding dairy farmers with over 120 cows from some TAMS investments, he said the move was misinterpreted.
“Up until December, any farmer was able to apply and get investment aid of either 40 or 60pc depending on the category on up to 200 investment items in TAMS.
“I increased that to 300 investments, so there’s now 50pc more items at a family farm level that you can get investment for.
“On one of those 300, there was a threshold of 120 cows for milking machines in particular and that was to encourage a diversity of investments for those availing of grants.
“It has mischievously presented as somehow a definition of family farming which is certainly not,” he said.