Ireland's agricultural sector has been criticised for not facing up to its environmental responsibilities under European wildlife protection and climate change legislation. "Not So Green” is a hard-hitting report published by Environmental Pillar (EP), an umbrella group representing 29 national NGOs, including Birdwatch Ireland, Native Woodland Trust, Bat Conservation Ireland and An Taisce.
EP claims that Ireland's policy in relation to agriculture is unrealistic and inaccurate, being based entirely on two government publications, Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025, which it says, were “compiled by industry and lobby representatives”. Bord Bia is accused of collusion through its 'Origin Green' food marketing campaign, “which seeks to brand, nationally and internationally, Irish agri-food products as being produced in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner.”
The report is unstinting in its appraisal of current reality of food production methods.
“Although the agri-food sector contributes to the economic viability of Irish rural life, and is cited as being one of the most important indigenous manufacturing sectors in Ireland, the sector, particularly in beef and dairy, contributes significantly to Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions profile, as well as affecting the conservation status of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems on the island.
Indeed, if climate change, biodiversity loss, and other pollution costs were included in the true cost of beef, dairy, and sheep-meat, much of Ireland’s agri-food sector would lose its economic viability.”
In the government document Food Wise 2025 carbon sequestration is envisaged through increased levels of afforestation. EP's report rejects any suggestion that this would solve the problem of Ireland's agricultural emissions, which are set to contribute 47% of non-Emissions Trading Sector emissions by 2020. It says that increasing forestry cover would “incentivise the expansion of Ireland’s unsustainable forestry model, one of the leading pressures on some of Ireland’s most threatened species and habitats. Carbon sequestration in monoculture forestry cannot be used as a substitute for the substantial and sustained reductions required in livestock emissions.”
The claim that Ireland's agricultural output contributes to world food security is rejected: “Food security is not simply a matter of food production and exports, it also has to take note of food and land impacts due to feed use, and climate impacts due to emissions from livestock and fertiliser-use. Above all food security is determined by complex issues of access to food for the poor.”
Ireland's major exports are beef and infant formula, “neither of which feed the poor and hungry of the world.” According to EP, solutions to the problem of food security should include “supporting the majority of the world’s farmers, who are small scale producers engaged in subsistence agriculture, who for example produce 70 per cent of Africa’s food supply. These farmers can double their food production within ten years by using genuinely environmentally friendly and socially just agro-ecological approaches.”
The report calls for a move towards more sustainability in agriculture.
“Ireland should be charting a different course for agriculture. This should involve supporting farmers to transition away from intense ruminant production to more sustainable agriculture, recognising and working with Ireland’s unique cultural and ecological heritage to support High Nature Value farming, and promoting healthier and less ecologically-damaging diets for the general population.”
Photo: Tom Jordan Lough Ree, from Co Longford