Beware of the Easter Island warning signs when it comes to Irish food production


There are armies of people employed all over Europe focused on food safety. Stock Image
There are armies of people employed all over Europe focused on food safety. Stock Image

The 2018 harvest is coming to an abrupt halt, with some very disappointing crops. However, there are some exciting prices and, more satisfyingly, some great demand for our produce.

That’s an aspect that has been sorely missing over the last few years.  Too often our hard efforts to produce to market demands have been met with a ‘Meaahh’ shrug of the shoulders.

However, this year on many fronts, be it grain, straw, potatoes, vegetables, the phone calls are coming in rather than the other way around. It gives some encouragement for the future. Given the hardships that have been endured over the last year, all encouragement is welcome.

One area we are not getting encouragement in is regulation. Food production at National, EU and international level is under constant pressure from populist thinking that is infiltrating the very structures of society that should be protecting production. The American court ruling with regards to glyphosate, the EU ruling that declared that new breeding techniques are to be classified as GM, and the constant stream of pesticides being removed from the market do nothing to give any producer confidence in the structures of society protecting food production.

When each of these news items were published, there was no shortage of commentators welcoming the news and lambasting food production methods as being archaic and dangerous to all.

There was a shortage, however, on commentary from the other perspective. One question that occurred to me is where are the regulators and authorities when it comes to defending our production methods.

There are armies of people employed all over Europe focused on food safety. There are far more looking at food safety than producing it in the first place. Yet they are strangely silent up against the populist bleating that goes on.

One would think that the very authorities that decide whether a food, a pesticide, a breeding technique is safe or not would have the courage of their convictions, and findings, to stand up to the naysayers in times when the basic systems we have of producing food is being attacked.

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But, no, its up to a few farmers interviewed at the mart for the Six One News to defend our production systems that have served us all well for thousands of years.

The very concept of food safety has been hijacked by a self-serving industry that has turned a simple concept into an ever growing futile exercise in box ticking, policy declarations and record-keeping marathons. The concept of food security has been relegated to contempt by the actions of the authorities, not just the trendy commentariat.

The way we treat food production here reminds me of the ancient inhabitants of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. The inhabitants of Easter Island at one time had it all: plenty of food, plenty to drink, plenty of fuel, living on an island paradise you only see on the lotto ads. So impressed were they with themselves with the good conditions they found themselves in, they started to build monuments to the most important thing in their lives – themselves. So engrossed did they become on building these monuments to celebrate their own successes that they used up all the resources on the island on producing these monuments. Suddenly, there were no resources remaining, all that was left was the monuments, and the island is now deserted. Resources are finite, more finite than the inhabitant’s hubris in this case.

The way the food authorities are treating food production has similarities to these islanders. So impressed have we become with the ability of the EU to produce food, there is ever more elaborate systems to demonstrate to all how ‘safe’ our food is. No risk is too small or too notional to expend vast resources eliminating, no written procedure is long enough, no policy statement is wordy enough to demonstrate compliance with our lofty notions of what food safety has become.

However, like the resources on the island, the limiting resource that food safety authorities have here, is the food producers. They are a finite resource and if we keep using up this resource on producing the monuments to food safety, eventually there will be no resources left to produce the food. In this case, however, we won’t even have the monuments to marvel at.

Richard Hackett is an Agronomist based in north county Dublin and is a member of the ITCA and ACA

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