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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 19 March, 2019
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Leo Varadkar reassures a concerned Dáil that he hasn't gone vegan

He said yesterday that he is cutting down on how much meat he is eating.

Image: PA/Shutterstock

HE MIGHT BE cutting down on his burger-eating, but Leo Varadkar won’t be following the Veganuary trend by going vegan, he reassured a very concerned Dáil today.

The worries about the Taoiseach’s salad consumption and B12 levels came from some quarters after he said yesterday that he was cutting down on meat due to health and climate concerns.

But his attempt to show that in 2019 he’d be putting more greens on his plate – in the wake of a damning UN climate change report - was not met with a smile by everyone.

Unsurprisingly, some of the culinary criticism centred around concerns about Ireland’s farming industry. During leader’s questions in the Dáil today, Charlie McConalogue of Fianna Fake Meat – sorry, Fianna Fáil, said yesterday’s comment did not show the “type of leadership you would expect from Taoiseach”.

He asked Varadkar in the future to be more careful and show leadership to those in the beef sector. He didn’t specify if this included the cows.

His Fianna Fáil colleague Jackie Cahill called Varadkar’s dietary admission a “flippant comment” which was “totally inappropriate for the head of government and hugely damaging” to the farming sector.

He called for him to withdraw his remarks.

Meanwhile, Michael Healy Rae said Varadkar did not have a full understanding of the anger surrounding the comments he made yesterday. He stuck the proverbial steak knife in over Varadkar’s city-dwelling status.

“You are the Taoiseach for all the whole country, not just Dublin city,” said Healy Rae, adding that the Taoiseach should be “conscientious of the plight of farmers”, who he said are struggling.

For God’s sake, act responsibly, it is very, very hurtful.

But in reaction to the comments, the Taoiseach took refuge in reassuring them that he has not turned into a lentil-lover, informing the Dáil he enjoyed a nice steak last night. (A steak made of meat, of course – not one of those namby-pamby fake ones.)

“I can reassure deputies I have not become a vegan,” he said with a smile.

And lest people be afraid that he was leaving other animals off the dinner menu, he added that he is happy to continue eating fish and poultry. No vegetarian sausages harmed.

The Taoiseach explained that he had made the comment yesterday after being asked what he was doing to reduce his carbon footprint. He had told reporters he was trying to eat less red meat, reassuring them that he was not giving it up altogether. He doesn’t intend on going the whole tofu yet.

The Taoiseach concluded by telling the worried deputies that his reason for trying to eat less red meat (though he didn’t specify how much he’d reduced his bacon and burger consumption by) is both for health reasons and climate change.

He added that it was not a flippant remark on his part, stating that red meat does contribute to higher rates of cancer. 

Farmers

His fellow politicians weren’t the only people with thoughts about the Taoiseach’s eating habits – the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association sent out a statement criticising his admission. 

Reacting today, ICSA president Patrick Kent said Varadkar’s comments were “reckless in the extreme”.

“As one of the most important beef exporters in the northern hemisphere, it is very unfortunate indeed that out Taoiseach should be calling into question the sustainability of Irish beef production,” Kent said.

He called Ireland’s farmers “leaders when it comes to climate change mitigation”. “We work tirelessly with all relevant stakeholders both here and in Brussels to deliver the highest quality produce while also delivering on food security, traceability and sustainability,” he said.

Kent called upon Varadkar to clarify that he wasn’t suggesting that people should eat less sustainably produced Irish beef and lamb. Given his comments about last night’s dinner, that doesn’t appear to be the case yet.

- Additional reporting Christina Finn

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