The Great Beef Controversy!


On  Thursday  Michael Healy Rae was on the radio waxing indignant on behalf of the beef industry.

The likes of Michael Healy Rae who respond to the call from serious scientists in The Lancet, for much less eating of beef, with a blind defence of business as usual, simply don’t get it – indeed refuse to get it. Climate Change is a GLOBAL emergency – all our futures are at stake –  and it is an indisputable fact the beef industry is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions internationally and especially in Ireland, so any comprehensive plan to reduce emissions will have to tackle beef production.

Therefore to argue that no major changes are needed, especially if they interfere with farming in Kerry, is simply sticking his and our heads in the sand. But if all the world’s scientists presented irrefutable evidence that a giant asteroid was heading towards earth and going to kill tens of millions of people,  Healy Rae would say ‘Sure, there’s always been asteroids!’ , so long, that is, it wasn’t going to land on his constituency.

Healy Rae is also wrong about the impact of excessive red meat consumption on personal health. We would all be healthier if we ate more fruit and vegetables and less sausages, steak and bacon.

But having said all that there is still a problem with this focus on beef-eating. It is not the central issue and, in a way, it is a diversion from the central issue. Yes cows are a factor driving climate change. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations  agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases world-wide and cattle-breeding is taking a major part of this. In addition as forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70 percent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing and this makes climate change worse because forests actually  improve the situation by absorbing CO2.

Nevertheless the central problem is the world’s utter dependence on fossil fuels – oil, gas, and coal – as its main source of energy, as what powers its factories, offices, armies, planes, cars, and most everything else. And this is the problem all our governments, and particularly the Irish government, are shying away from. They shy away from it because the oil, gas and coal corporations, are central to global capitalism and, particularly, to the biggest national players within global capitalism, ie USA and China.

Even on the question of beef the main problem is not what individual Irish people eat, it is that Irish agri-business is hugely over focused on beef exports and that should be changed.

Unwilling to face the central problem, unwilling to take on the giant corporations – be they ExxonMobile or Texaco, Toyota or Volkswagen, Wallmart or Shell or even Larry Goodman – they try desperately to shift the responsibility onto the shoulders of ‘ordinary’ people. They say ‘we’ must all change our behaviour by eating less meat or paying carbon tax but ‘they’, the rich and powerful refuse to change THEIR behaviour which is consistently to back up the giant corporations and to sacrifice the planet and its people on the altar of profit and what amounts to the same thing, the markets.

This is why Leo Varadkar, while promising to eat less beef and toying with the idea of a carbon tax, is ensuring that Bríd Smith’s Bill to stop the further extraction of fossil fuels is blocked and mired in the Dail committee system and why the government is going ahead with a huge Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal at Shannon.

Many people of good will who want to stop climate change ask ‘What can I personally do to help the situation?’ Well they can give up meat and that’s fine but the most important thing they can do, personally, is to join the growing climate revolt and work with other people to challenge the system that is causing climate change in the first place.