Department of Agriculture not doing enough to reduce ammonia emissions says An Taisce

21st June 2019
Press Release

The DAFM have just completed a public consultation on their Code of Good Agricultural Practice for reducing ammonia emissions from agriculture, a requirement under the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD) [1]. This Directive sets emission reduction commitments for EU Member States for five important air pollutants, including ammonia. In Ireland, ammonia emissions are steadily increasing, breaching the NECD limits for both 2016 and 2017, and set to continue increasing beyond 2030. [2] Ammonia is atmospheric nitrogen, 99% of which is produced by agriculture in Ireland. The gas is generated by animal manure and synthetic fertiliser, and is wind borne. When it mixes with industrial and car fumes, it forms particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), one of the most deadly forms of air pollution. This small particulate matter is well known to be harmful to health, penetrating deep into the lungs, and is linked to higher death rates, respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases, cognitive decline and low birth weights. A recent study found that at least 3000 premature deaths could be prevented annually in the UK by cutting ammonia emissions in half. [3]

This gas also poses a serious threat to biodiversity, with well established links between ammonia and biodiversity loss. It can cause soil acidification and runoff of polluting nitrates into nearby waterbodies. It also enriches some of our most pristine habitats like bogs and heaths, killing the most sensitive species, such as lichens and mosses, and damaging whole ecosystems. Bees and butterflies, our already imperilled pollinators, are also impacted by nitrogen pollution. [4] To combat this pollutant, the Department of Agriculture has drafted a Code of Best Agricultural Practice to help farmers reduce their ammonia output. [5] However, despite the major health and environmental risks posed by this gas, and the legal requirement to reduce these emissions under the NECD, the measures they propose are voluntary, and it is up to the individual farmer to choose which measures to implement. No financial incentives or supports are offered, despite many of the measures being prohibitively expensive, including purchasing specialised low emission slurry spreading machinery.

An Taisce have called on the Department of Agriculture to introduce mandatory, timetabled measures which will be most effective at reducing ammonia. It is essential that these measures are properly funded, as many farmers are already under significant financial strain. They have also called for an outright ban on splash-plate slurry spreading, the predominant method for spreading slurry in Ireland, but one which is known to lead to excessive ammonia emissions. The UK have already committed to implementing such a ban to lower their ammonia emissions. [6]

Ireland’s ammonia breaches are yet another indication that the Foodwise 2025 strategy is unsustainable and environmentally damaging, and in this instance it also poses a threat to human health. Intensive agriculture is putting Ireland in breach of multiple EU laws on biodiversity protection, climate emissions, water quality and air pollution. Without drastic measures, including significant herd reduction, our ammonia emissions will continue to rise, leading to the premature deaths of unsuspecting Irish people, and further damaging our already diminished biodiversity. This document produced by the Department of Agriculture does not provide the necessary means for significant ammonia reductions, and our health and biodiversity will suffer as a result.

Dr. Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer with An Taisce says:

“This is no longer just an issue of environmental damage by agriculture, it is also a serious risk to people’s health. Ammonia pollution is an issue few are aware of, but it’s quickly becoming a major health and environmental threat in Ireland.”

“Everyone is familiar with the acrid smell of a manure heap, or of slurry being spread, but very few are aware that along with that smell they are potentially inhaling an extremely dangerous air pollutant. The people of rural Ireland who live close to these intensive agricultural farms may be jeopardising their health, and most have no idea.”

“The Department of Agriculture acknowledge that reducing our ammonia emissions will be very challenging given current agricultural practices, and yet they still produce a weak and ineffective document which provides no binding measures, or financial incentives or support for farmers. How can they possibly expect it to be effective?”

“Ireland’s intensive agriculture model doesn’t benefit the environment, the public’s health, the climate, animal welfare and in many instances it doesn’t even benefit farming families. Everyone is a loser, besides the big agri-businesses who profit from this model. Ireland’s intensive farming is not the success story it’s made out to be, it’s a gradual degradation of everything we hold dear. It’s high time we pulled back the curtain on this system, and demanded a more sustainable approach for agriculture.”

The full text of the An Taisce Submission is available on our website, here:

http://www.antaisce.org/publications/an-taisce-submission-on-code-of-good-agricultural-practice-for-reducing-ammonia

ENDS For further information, contact: Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer, An Taisce: +353 1 707 7063 email: elaine.mcgoff@antaisce.org An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland

Notes

A new National Emissions Ceilings Directive (NECD) (2016/2284/EU) entered into force on 31 December 2016. The NECD sets national emission reduction commitments for Member States and the EU for five important air pollutants: nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The Directive requires Member States to put in place a Code of Good Agricultural Practice for reducing Ammonia Emissions from Agriculture.

  1. https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air/national-emission-ceilings/national-emission-ceilings-directive
  2. EPA (2019) Ireland’s Transboundary Gas Emissions 1990-2030. https://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/air/airemissions/irelandsairpollutantemissions2017/
  3. https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2019-06-13/deadly-gas-ammonia-cutting-farm-emissions-could-save-3000-lives-a-year
  4. https://royalsociety.org/~/media/policy/projects/evidence-synthesis/Ammonia/Ammonia-report.pdf
  5. https://www.gov.ie/en/consultation/64960a-draft-code-of-good-agricultural-practice-for-reducing-ammonia-emissi/
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/14/muck-spreading-could-be-banned-to-reduce-air-pollution

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.

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Full text of Submission on Code of Good Agricultural Practice for Reducing Ammonia Emissions from Agriculture