Beef and dairy sectors 'vulnerable' to new diseases, warns academic

IFA President Joe Healy. Picture: Finbarr O'Rourke
IFA President Joe Healy. Picture: Finbarr O'Rourke
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

IRISH agriculture needs to reduce its reliance on cattle and future-proof the sector against the threat of new diseases and global economic upheaval, a leading academic has warned.

"The agricultural sector is too focussed on dairying and cattle. This leaves us vulnerable to a health outbreak that we would be unable to control," Dr Peter Thorne, Professor of Geography at NUI Maynooth, told the Farming Independent.

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"One thing that's for certain is if a new disease came, it's highly questionable that we would be able to control it," said Dr Thorne.

He added that changing consumer trends and volatile global economic conditions also leave Irish agriculture open to threats.

"Brexit is an immediate risk. And if there is a change, if people eat less meat or dairy, or protectionist barriers are put in place internationally, the farming community will need to be robust to cope with the vagaries of the market."

Dr Thorne says we need a reduced national cattle herd and an increased focus on horticulture to create a "balanced sector".

However, IFA president Joe Healy stated last week that the increase in the national cattle herd and its impact on climate change is a "myth" and that if Ireland reduces the size of its herd, this will only allow less carbon-efficient beef producing countries like Brazil to fill the gap.

Chemicals

"The size of the national herd that has been spoken about is a myth really because the size of the national herd at the moment is lower than it was in 1998. We have less than seven million head of cattle in this country. If we take the likes of Brazil for example they have 230 million head of cattle," said Mr Healy.

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Last week, the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change stated that eating less meat and reducing the use of chemicals in farming will be essential if the global effort on climate action is to succeed.

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