AGRICULTURE Minister Michael Creed warned sustainability was now a key demand from buyers of dairy produce around the world.
The minister, who has just returned from a trade mission to the US and Canada, said that increasingly the “ask is around sustainability” with climate change and emissions from cattle firmly on the agenda.
“The co-ops and plcs have been really active in trying to ensure that our dairy industry does not find itself in a post-milk quota era finding that we have effectively a new quota because of environmental regulations,” he told Newstalk radio, adding they were trying to “fire proof” the valuable sector.
He stressed Ireland was the most carbon efficient producer of dairy per unit of output, with work underway to improve sustainability in the sector. However, he said there was “no silver bullet” for methane emissions.
Mr Creeds said the “very well resourced” ‘Go Vegan’ campaign that has seen anti-dairy advertisements erected was a wake up call to the industry that these are the “headwinds” to be faced and the sector must be best in class in terms of sustainability, animal welfare and anti-microbial resistance.
Mr Creed was speaking ahead of launching a €35m cheese plant expansion for Glanbia in Co Wexford, with the dairy processor also set to invest a further €125m in their nutritional powders plant at Belview, Co Kilkenny.
He said the dairy processor was working on a product mix which “insulates” them from the worst excesses of Brexit, with Ireland significantly exposed to the UK market which takes around a third of Irish dairy production.
In particular, cheddar cheese is exposed to Brexit with 80,000t going into the UK.
Mr Creed said there wasn’t a substantial ready-made market for it elsewhere in the globe.
The minister admitted he was worried if a hard border did arise due to Brexit as the industry was “exposed” but highlighted there were significant opportunities in the likes of Canada and Japan.