In 2010 the Department of Agriculture published a major strategy called Food Harvest 2020, which sets out a range of objectives for the entire agricultural sector for the next decade. The strategy, if carried out, will have negative consequences for Ireland's environment. A Strategic Environmental Assessment was reluctantly carried out by the Department of Agriculture after extensive lobbying by environmental groups, including An Taisce. A public consultation took place in late 2013. An Taisce made a submission highlighting the shortcomings of the environmental assessment, which is conservative in its estimations but nonetheless predicts negative impacts on water quality, biodiversity, increased GHG emissions and more intensive agricultural land use.
The 2020 target of increasing milk production by 50% - following the expiration of milk quotas in 2015 - is of particular significance. It is worth reflecting that agriculture was responsible in 2012 for one third (32.1%) of Ireland’s total climate emissions. This is much higher than our transport or energy or industrial sectors. The EPA projects an increase of 12% in agricultural emissions by 2020 as a result of Food Harvest 2020, so things are set to get worse, not better, based on current policy. This presents a huge challenge.
The argument presented by the government, the IFA and others is that Ireland produces meat and dairy more efficiently than other countries, such that the growing food demands of a projected world population of 11 billion by 2100 (up from 7 billion now) should be met by foodstuffs produced here, and not elsewhere. This argument has a superficial appeal, but it will not help to secure the large absolute greenhouse gas reductions which are needed. Nor does it engage at all with the demand/consumption side of the equation.
Food Harvest 2020 is regrettably lacking in any vision to enhance Ireland’s food security or current dangerous dependence on the import of grain, animal feed and high green house gas generating fertilizer. There is no serious evaluation of the potential of increased fruit and vegetable production to replace the current unsustainable level of imports at €850m per annum.