Ireland’s agricultural model of unbalanced over-dependence on animal agriculture, particularly beef and dairy, comes at a devastatingly high ecological cost, a new report produced by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has confirmed [1].

The NWPS assessment of EU-listed habitats and species rates 85% of habitats as having ‘unfavourable status’, in a report recently submitted to the European Commission.

“We already know that our livestock-dominated system produces more CO2 equivalent emissions per euro of agricultural output [2] than any other country in the EU28”, according to John Gibbons, An Taisce climate spokesperson.

“We also know that agriculture produces around a third of Ireland’s total carbon emissions [3], and that emissions from this sector continue to rise while national emissions including agriculture are legally mandated to drop sharply. What the NPWS analysis also confirms is that this monocultural system is now damaging up to 70% of internationally important habitats in Ireland”.

In the light of the climate and biodiversity emergency, An Taisce believes it is time for an urgent re-think on our national agricultural strategy. The agri industry-drafted ‘Food Wise 2025’ and its, likely similar 2030, strategy (now open for public comment) need to be scrapped.

It is critically important that the Department of Agriculture now focus urgently on fulfilling the strong recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action [4], for independent analysis and a review of nitrogen fertiliser use, made in response to the Citizens’ Assembly strong consensus:

  1. An independent assessment of Teagasc’s GHG abatement measures should be commissioned to establish whether additional measures can be developed. (Section 8.5)

  2. The Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, in conjunction with Teagasc and the Environmental Protection Agency, should undertake a review of nitrogen fertiliser management and imports in 2019 in view of impacts on soil fertility, as well as EU climate and nitrate obligations. (Section 8.5)

It is also notable that largely thanks to this rush to livestock monoculture, just 1.6% of the available land in Ireland is farmed organically [5], the second lowest percentage in the EU. Organic farming methods deliver premium products while minimising environmental impacts. Ireland should be a world leader in this space, capitalising on our ‘green’ image; instead, we are among the laggards of Europe.

Meanwhile, analysis recently undertaken by An Taisce [6] has identified advice being produced by Teagasc, the state agricultural agency, as running directly contrary to the guidance of the government’s Climate Change Advisory Council. Teagasc is continuing to promote the incorrect notion that agricultural emissions can be effectively reduced without any material reduction in herd numbers.

Dr Deirdre Lynn of the NWPS is quoted in the Irish Times [7] as follows: “The main drivers of the habitat decline are agricultural practices which are negatively impacting over 70% of habitats, particularly ecologically unsuitable grazing, abandonment and pollution.” She added that the unfavourable status of so many Irish habitats was “regrettably unsurprising”.

An Taisce notes the unacceptable lack of urgency in the response of Heritage & Culture Minister Josepha Madigan to the NWPS findings. Calling on ‘all sectors of society to work together to address this’ is an almost meaningless statement that notably avoids even identifying the actual sector driving this crisis.

CONTACT: John Gibbons, PRO, An Taisce climate change committee: 087 233 2689