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Green Party says we need to reduce the number of cows, farmers call that an 'attack'

A new global report has warned that the world cannot sustain our demand for food.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

THE IRISH FARMERS’ Association has hit out at calls by the Green Party that the national dairy and beef herds should be reduced following a landmark climate report published yesterday.

The report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change on the links between the land we live off and climate change and painted a grim picture of how the planet’s life support systems will continue to suffer as global temperatures rise. 

It warned that efforts to limit global warming while feeding a booming population could be wrecked without swift and sweeping changes to how we use the land we live off.

Although it mostly steered clear of the controversial calls to limit meat consumption, the report did recommend that humans should move towards more balanced diets of plant-based foods such as grains and nuts. 

It found that agriculture and its supply lines account for as much as 37% of all human-made emissions, and current industrialised production and global food chains contribute to vast food inequality. 

Ireland focus 

While the report doesn’t contain much country specific data, it has renewed focus in Ireland on how the country produces food and the use of land here. 

About a third of Ireland’s heat trapping greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from our agricultural sector – an unusually high rate attributed to our cattle herd used in beef and dairy production. 

The national herd (number of cattle in Ireland) is currently just under 7 million. Cattle are ruminants – animals which acquire nutrients from grass and other plants by fermenting it in their stomachs. This process releases methane – a GHG that remains in the Earth’s atmosphere and traps heat.

Other environmentally damaging aspects of beef and dairy farming have to do with the use of fertiliser and pesticides.

Following on from yesterday’s report, the Green Party called for national land use plan to see how the country could reduce emissions and diversify its agriculture system away from an over reliance on beef and dairy. 

“The beef sector is not profitable and it’s not working for Irish farmers,” Green Party councillor David Healy said today on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. 

So what we need to do is to look at our agricultural system and diversify it and to take the economic opportunities that are there.

IFA response 

Responding yesterday, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) said that the Green Party’s “continuous attack on our national herd lacks climate credibility”. 

“Farmers in Ireland have a proud climate record, with the European Union’s Joint Research Centre confirming that our dairy farmers are number one and our beef farmers are in the top five when it comes to climate friendly food production,” IFA Environment Chairman Thomas Cooney said in a statement. 

Speaking today, IFA president Joe Healy added to this, saying that reducing cattle numbers here would only allow less carbon efficient countries (for example, Brazil) to fill the gap as the worldwide demand for beef and dairy continues to grow.

“We’re very clear in the IFA that our farming members are doing a lot for climate. There’s always ways we can do more,” he said. 

Climate is not just an Irish issue, it’s a global issue. Since 1990 we have increased agricultural output by 40% and in that time we’ve done that by not increasing our carbon emissions.

David Healy said that the global demand for beef and dairy needed to be addressed.

“It simply isn’t going to be possible for the planet to supply beef and dairy in particular at the levels which are predicted,” he said. 

David Healy said demand for beef and dairy was already decreasing in developed nations like Ireland and the US.  

The government’s Climate Action Plan published in June contains no commitments to reduce the national herd.

While emissions are due to fall across most sectors over the next 10 years, emissions from agriculture are likely to rise as the country continues to increase dairy production. 

With reporting from AFP

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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