IFA's attack on Environmental NGOs undermines their own Credibility

5th April 2017
Press Release

In a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, earlier this week the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) published an article entitled “Selective Misrepresentation of Research by Environmental NGOs Undermines Their Credibility” (1).

In so doing, ironically, the IFA completely and entirely misrepresented both the research in question and the response of environmental NGOs to its findings. The IFA’s unhappiness appears to relate to a newly published European Parliament document (2), entitled: ‘Research for AGRI Committee - Policy support for productivity vs. sustainability in EU agriculture: Towards viable farming
 and green growth’.

Figure 5 (p.25) of this document examines ‘Agricultural GHG productivity in the EU /average 2012-2014)’ using the measure of carbon productivity, i.e. how much agricultural output value in euro is generated for every tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted.

The best performing country in the EU, Italy, achieved some €1,700 of agricultural output per tonne of emissions. The worst performing country in the EU28 was Ireland, where less than €400 in agricultural output was achieved per tonne of carbon emitted. As the EU report observes: ‘GHG productivity is a widely-accepted indicator at international level to monitor green growth (OECD). Differences within the EU are still high, as shown in Figure 5’.

The EU finding that Irish agriculture is the least climate-efficient in Europe reflects the dominance of beef and dairy systems in Ireland, compared to other member states with lower proportions of livestock farming.

The main findings of the study were reported in the Irish Times on April 1st, in an article headed: ‘Irish agriculture the least climate-efficient in Europe, study finds’. No environmental NGO made any official comment whatever surrounding this study. The Irish Times article goes on to state that Ireland is currently not on track to meet its climate targets for 2020 and 2030, partly because emissions from agriculture are likely to flatline at best. Agriculture is the single largest contributor to Ireland’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for one-third of the total.

The Irish Times quoted researcher Joseph Curtin, a member of Ireland's Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC), who states: “Saying that we have efficient beef systems is like saying that we have the most efficient coal plants in the EU, but ignoring that there are much more economically beneficial and sustainable ways to produce electricity”.

Separately, European agricultural policy expert and CCAC member, Prof Alan Matthews of TCD, tweeted (3) a graphic of Figure 5 with the following comments: ‘Ireland has lowest carbon efficiency (euro per tonne Ceq) among all EU MS agricultures due to structure of output’. This was retweeted and discussed on various personal social media accounts.

However, at 7am on Monday last, IFA issued a press release which, without any apparent provocation, aims a direct attack on the integrity, motives and professionalism of Ireland’s environmental NGOs. This is despite the fact that no NGO is quoted in the Irish Times article and no NGO issued any formal statement that could possibly have provoked such a stream of invective.

The IFA’s highly defensive response, apart from damaging the Association’s own credibility, does not once acknowledge the role of agriculture in Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions. Now, more than ever, there is a critical need to ensure research relating to climate change is communicated clearly and effectively. The IFA’s decision to dismiss this research by the European Parliament is in itself misrepresentative. According to IFA environmental chairman, Thomas Cooney, NGOs “sit in judgement and criticism of the sustainable development of the agri-food sector, but provide absolutely no alternative coherent vision or plan for the sector”.

It is regrettable that the IFA flatly refuses to engage with the environmental NGO sector and chooses instead to issue menacing statements accusing NGOs of being unpatriotic and trying to ‘undermine the agri-food sector’. This form of gunboat diplomacy from the IFA is unhelpful, and doubly disappointing emanating from a person chairing its ‘Environment Committee’.

Irish agriculture faces many challenges in the future, the greatest of which will be from climate change, a fact about which the IFA appears completely in denial. It is in Ireland’s national interest to develop a climate-resilient, locally-based, sustainable model of food production that also plays its part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are destabilising the global climate.

Irish agriculture can most effectively achieve this by reducing the size of the National herd by rejuvenating our organic and horticultural sectors.

Now, with Brexit on the horizon, a major question mark hangs over whether Irish farmers can still draw down CAP payments of over €1.5 billion annually, especially if this is to prop up the EU’s least climate-efficient system of agriculture.

And, with EU fines amounting to hundreds of millions of euros per annum to start hitting in the 2020s for our failure to reach legally mandated emissions targets, does the IFA expect ordinary taxpayers to bail out beef and dairy farmers for their high-emissions practices?

An Taisce believes it is time for a full and frank national dialogue on the future of food security and resilience on this island, one that moves past the ‘Origin Green’ slogans and addresses, for example, why Ireland has the second lowest amount of its farmland dedicated to organic agriculture in the EU (5).

We would be happy to participate in a constructive engagement, but it’s time for the name-calling and reality denial to stop.

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 i www.antaisce.org

Notes

  1. Selective Misrepresentation of Research by Environmental NGOs Undermines Their Credibility – IFA 1st April 2017 https://www.ifa.ie/selective-misrepresentation-of-research-by-environmental-ngos-undermines-their-credibility-ifa/#.WOUUcKK1uDt
  2. Research for AGRI Committee - Policy support for productivity vs. sustainability in EU agriculture: Towards viable farming and green growth 16-01-2017 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=IPOL_STU(2017)585905
  3. Tweet by Alan Mathews 30/03/2017 https://twitter.com/xAlan_Matthews/status/847378962648932353
  4. Ireland would profit from opting out of beef, says expert. Eoin Burke-Kennedy Irish Times Fri, Jun 5, 2015, 20:12 http://www.irishtimes.com/business/agribusiness-and-food/ireland-would-profit-from-opting-out-of-beef-says-expert-1.2239316
  5. Less than 2% of land used for organic farming in Ireland Conor Finnerty Agriland 1:00 pm - October 26, 2016 http://www.agriland.ie/farming-news/less-than-2-of-land-used-for-organic-farming-in-ireland/

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.