An Taisce appearance at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture

9th April 2019
Press Release

Embargoed 3:00 09/04/2019

An Taisce is appearing in front of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agricuture this afternoon on the subject of "Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food And The Marine Call for Submissions The Future of The Beef Sector"

Government policy for the agriculture sector is set out in the document called ‘Food Wise 2025’. It is important to note that this document was largely drawn up by the agri-industrial sector and co-opted by government.

This document sets Ireland on a wholly unsustainable pathway, and needs to be reconsidered as a matter of urgency, Ian Lumley of An Taisce told the Joint Oireachtas Committee examination on ‘The future of the Irish beef sector’ today.

The focus on the future of the Irish family farm should now be on the recent Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action (JOCCA) recommendation on the need for a ‘more diversified, resilient, sustainable and equitable model for Irish agriculture’. The Committee also observed that ‘Ireland cannot meet its international emissions targets without tackling agricultural sector emissions’.

Trivial tinkering around the edges, as per much-hyped recent ‘smart farming’ initiatives, will in no way help this sector meet its emissions targets.

The basis of what is now required is a transition towards low-input land-use including more tillage, horticulture, agroforestry and permanent woodland as well as energy crops. This option would offer farmers a positive and genuinely “climate-smart” future, and would likely increase rural employment and resilience.

The national herd now numbers around 7.3 million, and these are the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector. Despite ‘Origin Green’ marketing hype, there is not nearly enough grass in Ireland to feed this huge number of large ruminants.

As a result, Ireland imported over 4 million tonnes of animal feedstuffs in 2018. That’s the equivalent of 80,000 tonnes a week (enough to fill 8,000 tractor trailers weekly). This huge amount of imported feed is at least in part because Ireland is overstocked with beef and dairy cattle.

The 2018 fodder crisis showed the extreme vulnerability of intensive beef and dairy production to climate-driven weather extremes. An Taisce also pointed out to the Committee that Ireland claims to be a ‘food island’ yet in 2017, we imported 72,000 tonnes of potatoes, 47,000 tonnes of onions, 29,000 tonnes of tomatoes, 23,000 tonnes of cabbage and 15,000 tonnes of lettuce. These are all crops that could grow well in Irish conditions, yet we have among the lowest percentage of land used in horticulture in the EU, and the lowest percentage of organic farming in the entire EU28.

As a major study in the eminent scientific journal ‘Nature’ in 2018 pointed out: Huge reductions in meat-eating are essential to avoid dangerous climate change, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of the food system’s impact on the environment. In Western countries, beef consumption needs to fall by 90% and be replaced by five times more beans and pulses’.

Despite recent hysterical overreaction by agri lobbyists, the science is clear: we need to reduce the amount of meat in our diets in order to have enough food in the world to feed everyone, while limiting the impacts of climate change. Beef in turn is the meat that is least efficient in terms of converting primary energy into food for humans.

A recent Overview of the Common Agricultural Policy highlighted the unsustainable nature of beef farming in Ireland. Income dependency on CAP payments ran at between 96% and 114% of family farm incomes. Family farms are having to use the CAP payments to subsidise the running costs on non-dairy cattle farms, as the income from beef alone is wholly inadequate.

What about claims of ‘unique efficiency’ of Irish beef? Our beef and dairy system was found in an EU Parliament study published in April 2017 to produce the most carbon emissions per euro of food output in the entire EU28.

Further, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM) Report in February 2019 found that Irish beef produced 215kg of CO2eq for every kilogram of protein produced – the least efficient in the entire EU28, and nearly three times as carbon-intensive as countries such as Latvia, Denmark and Finland.

We need to prioritise national food security and it is scarcely believable that Ireland, in the 21st century, could be a net food energy importer. But that is the reality of the agricultural system that has developed at the behest of big commercial interests”, according to Mr Lumley.

ENDS

For further information, contact: Ian Lumley, Advocacy Officer, An Taisce: +353 1 454 1786 Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995 email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland

Notes:

An Taisce - Protecting Ireland’s heritage, safeguarding its future

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.