Environmentalists challenge Ireland's mushroom industry
An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment challenge the Irish mushroom industry over its unsustainable use of peat
An Taisce - the National Trust for Ireland – and Friends of the Irish Environment have jointly written to Monaghan Mushrooms (Europe's largest producer of mushrooms), CMP Mushrooms (a producer organisation representing 90% of Irish mushroom production and growers) and the IFA’s Horticulture and Mushroom Committees to challenge the industry's extensive and unsustainable use of Irish peat.
Mushroom production is the largest horticultural sector in Ireland by quite a distance. This from 2013: "It is the largest horticultural sector in Ireland with a farmgate value of €112 million, of which close on 75% is exported to the UK." [Note 1] The government has expansion plans for the mushroom industry between now and 2020. [Note 2]
While the substrate on which mushrooms are grown is typically a compost made from straw, gypsum, poultry litter and/or horse manure, the industry uses peat as a “casing” material, which is placed on top of the growing substrate to hold in moisture.
A major scientific study concluded recently, “neither past nor current management of peatlands in Ireland has been sustainable. Disturbances in the form of industrial and domestic peat extraction, private afforestation, overgrazing, wind farms and recreational activities have had and are having major negative impacts on the hydrology and ecology of these habitats,” [Note 3] with serious consequences in terms of climate change, biodiversity loss and water quality, amongst other things.
In 2013 Teagasc wrote that “Currently, Irish mushroom growers are not under immediate pressure to find alternatives to peat as a casing ingredient." [Note 4]
An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment have this week left the Irish mushroom industry in no doubt that they intend to change this. Their letter asks Monaghan Mushrooms, CMP Mushrooms and the IFA’s Horticulture and Mushroom Committees to reveal the mushroom industry’s plans for:
- Reducing its reliance of peat in light of the serious negative environmental consequences of peat use, including climate change; and
- Ensuring that any peat the industry uses is sourced from companies which have planning permission and all relevant licences for their operations, and whose extractive activities have been subject to environmental impact assessment and appropriate assessment in accordance with EU and Irish law.
Peat extraction remains largely unregulated in Ireland. A recent article commented that “industrial extraction from Ireland’s bogs remains the biggest unregulated land use in Ireland, if not in Europe.” [Note 5] The vast majority of peat extraction here - including by large multinationals - has no planning permission and/or no licences, and has never been subject to environmental impact assessment or appropriate assessment, despite obligations under EU and Irish law.
This lack of regulation makes peat an artificially cheap raw material input for the mushroom industry in Ireland. While the industry in Ireland complains about the competitive advantage obtained by operators elsewhere in Europe as a result of cheaper labour costs there, [Note 6] it is disingenuous that similar concerns are not recognised here regarding the unfair advantage obtained by the Irish mushroom industry through relying on peat which is extracted without complying with basic EU and Irish legal rules in terms of permission and assessment.
The unsustainability of peat use in the mushroom industry is no secret. In 2013 Teagasc noted that,
“Currently, Irish mushroom growers are not under immediate pressure to find alternatives to peat as a casing ingredient. However, the Irish mushroom industry is a major supplier to supermarket chains in Great Britain, where peat conservation and peat replacement are the subject of considerable debate and legislation. Given the importance of the British market for Irish mushrooms, alternative materials for use as a peat replacement or as an ingredient in a peat based casing may be required in the future.” [Note 7]
“While, at present, an SMS-based [Spent Mushroom Substrate] casing is not commercially viable when compared with peat-based casings, at some point in the future, when peat can no longer be used due to conservation or exhaustion of supplies, SMS incorporating Vermiculite could be used as an alternative.” [Note 7]
While Teagasc claims to have a sustainability mandate, instead of recommending replacing peat as a casing material, their approach is evidently “let’s wait until the mushroom industry here feels the heat.” This is unacceptable and ethically unjustifiable, say An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment.
In circumstances where Teagasc will not take the lead, the Irish mushroom industry should act of its own accord, and urgently. Irish consumers and Irish supermarkets are no less concerned about the impacts of unregulated peat extraction and the unsustainability of peat use more generally.
A single Irish company - Monaghan Mushrooms - is Europe’s biggest producer of mushrooms, holding a 45% market share in the UK. [Note 8] Customers of Monaghan Mushrooms include “ASDA, Tesco, the UK’s leading retailer, Lidl, Sainsburys, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Campbell’s and Loblaw’s, Canada’s number one food retailer.” [Note 9]
Commenting today, An Taisce’s Natural Environment Officer and Solicitor Andrew Jackson said,
“It is insulting to the Irish public to suggest, as Teagasc effectively has, that the mushroom industry here can just sit back until our neighbours in the UK kick up a fuss about peat use. We do not think retailers and their customers would be impressed to hear that the peat industry in Ireland is largely unregulated, and that the mushroom industry and the government’s advisory body Teagasc apparently show no concern to reduce the industry’s reliance on peat in the interests of this and future generations.”
Tony Lowes of Friends of the Irish Environment adds,
“The satellite survey of exposed peatlands we commissioned from University College Cork revealed the extent of the current exploitation by eight or nine ‘mini Bord na Mónas’ across the raised bogs of the midlands. The mushroom industry is one of the biggest drivers of literally thousands of hectares of devastation that is increasing each year without licensing or planning permission. Without a commitment from the industry to address these issues, any claims of environmental sustainability and legal compliance ring very hollow.”
An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment await the industry’s response.
For further information, please call:
- See page 8: http://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2013/2916/Mushroom_%20Conference_%20Proceedings_web.pdf
- See http://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2013/2916/Mushroom_%20Conference_%20Proceedings_web.pdf
- See BOGLAND report: http://erc.epa.ie/safer/iso19115/displayISO19115.jsp?isoID=236
- See http://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2013/2921/5173.pdf
- See http://www.villagemagazine.ie/index.php/2015/01/99-gone-and-still-going/
- See page 27 http://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2013/2916/Mushroom_%20Conference_%20Proceedings_web.pdf
- See http://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2013/2921/5173.pdf
- See http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/mushroom-factory-creates-150-jobs-26672308.html
- See page 64 http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/media/migration/agri-foodindustry/foodharvest2020/Milestones201415ArtFINALLayout1170914.pdf