An Taisce has called on Minister Creed to retract misleading Dáil statements on rising dairy emissions

25th June 2018
Press Release

Ireland’s dairy-related greenhouse gas emissions are skyrocketing in lock-step with the rapidly rising number of dairy cows, yet Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and his officials continue to misinform the Dáil and Oireachtas by implying otherwise. In reality, a production cap is required if dairy emissions are to be reduced to meet climate targets (see Note 1).

The Dáil record needs to be corrected by Minister Creed as a matter of urgency, and repeated, inaccurate claims by Ministers and officials that dairy emissions have been decoupled from milk production need to be publicly retracted.

In a Written Answer on 26 April 2018 (see Note 2), Minister Creed responded to a Dáil Question from Bernard Durkan TD by misleadingly stating:

in the five-year period 2012-2016, dairy cow numbers have increased by 22% and corresponding milk production by 27% while emissions increased just 8% demonstrating a level of decoupling is occurring.”

Minister Creed used these statistics incorrectly to claim they indicate a large improvement in dairy efficiency, as though the 8% emissions figure relates directly to the 22% and 27% figures for cow numbers and milk production. This is demonstrably untrue. The 8% rise has occurred in total agriculture emissions so it cannot and must not be used as a figure for the rise in total dairy emissions in the way implied in this statement by Minister Creed.

In fact, EPA data indicates dairy CO₂e emissions went up 24% from 2012 to 2016 (see An Taisce’s analysis in chart below), which is strongly coupled with the 22% increase in dairy cow numbers and 27% milk production increase. An Taisce’s analysis is confirmed in a recent EPA presentation showing the large rise in dairy emissions and minimal change in dairy efficiency (see Note 3).

Therefore, no significant decoupling of milk production from emissions has occurred and there has been little if any change in dairy efficiency between 2012-2016 – indeed there has been little change in efficiency since 2009, the year before the dairy expansion plan was announced.

An Taisce wrote to the Minister on May 2nd pointing out the above error and requesting that he correct the Dáil record. A reply was finally received on June 5th after multiple follow-up requests.

In his response to An Taisce, Minister Creed stated:

The 8% increase in emissions I referred to is the growth in total agricultural emissions and reflects that while dairy numbers (and emissions) are increasing, other sub sectors of agriculture are contracting. It is valid to consider the sector as a whole in presenting this data”.

Therefore, Minister Creed agrees that he used ‘total agricultural emissions’ rise of 8%, in a sentence in his Written Answer claiming decoupling of emissions from production, as though this figure is the same as the rise in ‘total dairy emissions’, which is in fact about 24%. Absurdly, he now wants to claim that the use of 8% instead of 24% is “valid”. By not correcting his misleading statement, it seems the Minister is now willing to mislead the Dáil. This would be unacceptable behaviour for a Government minister. An Taisce now publicly call on the Minister to correct the Dáil record as a matter of urgency.

Nor is this the first such issue with the Minister and his Department of Agriculture (DAFM) officials regarding dairy emissions and claimed decoupling from herd size and production. As shown by the following examples, there appears to be a pattern of such misuse of information to support these spurious claims:

  • Speaking in the Dáil on November 8th last, Minister Creed stated: “The post-dairy quota era has proven that we have broken the link between increased output and increasing greenhouse gas production. Since 2015 we have increased our dairy production by 13.2% but our greenhouse gas emissions have only gone up by 1.6%. This is significant in that we are breaking the link between increased production and increased greenhouse gas emissions.”
  • Some six days later, this erroneous point was repeated by Bill Callanan, assistant secretary general at DAFM, when addressing the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. He stated: “The agrifood sector has already done a lot and indeed has decoupled sector growth from gross emissions”. One of his officials, Jack Nolan, supplied the figures to supposedly back up this claim: “The committee should know that since 2015 we have increased milk output by 13.5%, whereas emissions have only increased by 1.6%. Massive efficiency gains are happening at the moment”.
  • Junior Minister, Andrew Doyle on December 7th last told the Dáil: “In the agriculture sector, there has been a decoupling of emissions from output. For example, in the 2012-16 period, dairy cow numbers increased by 22% and corresponding milk production increased by 27%, yet emissions increased by just 8%”.

No such extraordinary decoupling of emissions from production has occurred. The above examples show that Ministers and officials are repeatedly using largely unrelated numbers in a deeply misleading way that obscures the reality of the dairy expansion and the lack of any significant efficiency improvement. This is unacceptable. Mr Creed and his departmental advisors are brazenly repeating a false narrative about dramatic decoupling of dairy production that is completely and demonstrably without foundation.

As a direct result of Government and industry policy, rapid increases in dairy output have not been enabled through efficiency improvement but rather by rises in cattle numbers and a large increase in fertiliser use to boost grass growth. (This has also resulted in huge increases in slurry production, likely leading to more water pollution and soil contamination with excess nitrogen.) Dairy emissions are rising sharply as a result of this intentional increase in climate pollution instead of reducing it as is required in climate policy to meet agreed and accepted EU targets. The aim of mitigation must be to reduce emissions year on year.

An Taisce would point out that the duty of the civil service is to serve the public interest, without fear or favour. It is also there as a bulwark to resist, rather than amplify, the PR spin being generated by lobby groups from any quarter, in this case the dairy industry.

An Taisce wrote to Minister Creed pointing out his erroneous use of data and refrained from issuing any public statement to allow him ample time to correct the record. However, given his reply, it is now clear that he does not intend to do so but is hoping to bluff his way through this misleading of the Dáil and the public.

An Taisce now publicly calls on Minister Creed and the Department of Agriculture to retract this series of misleading statements and correct the Dáil and Oireachtas record.

Figure (link below) below is An Taisce’s analysis of change in EPA and CSO data since the EU climate target reference year 2005. The chart shows the strong coupling of dairy emissions with milk production and herd size, especially in the five years 2012-2016. This means that no significant change in dairy efficiency has occurred, as is also shown in the chart.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/17eKY3Eeu8dzjb5LzjVcWO2QlzkZIXq-H/view?usp=sharing

Figure (link below) is an EPA chart from a May 2018 presentation (see Note 3) showing the sharp 25% rise in total dairy emissions for 2012-2016 compared to a relatively insignificant change in methane efficiency.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nCnCoh6jTDYUDe-3ELq5QzGLPlnU4QNE/view?usp=sharing

ENDS

For further information, contact:
John Gibbons, An Taisce Climate Change Committee: +353 87 233 2689
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
www.antaisce.org

Notes

  1. Trevor Donnellan, Teagasc, as reported in https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/dairy/dairy-advice/cow-numbers-may-be-limited-if-agriculture-doesnt-step-up-its-efforts-to-meet-climate-targets-37026016.html
  2. Dáil Written Answer, 26 April 2018, Michael Creed: https://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2018-04-26a.459&s=%22climate+action%22#g462.r
  3. 2018_05_09 EPA presentation at the Agriculture and Emissions (EUKI) Workshop given at Tailors’ Hall, Dublin https://drive.google.com/file/d/14f0-6Esb7y_BJeEGOWt1Is4voUNcPeiB/view?usp=sharing

About An Taisce

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.