Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Mary Robinson comes under fire in Brussels over her vegetarian agenda

Former Irish President Mary Robinson said developed nations should go vegetarian to help fight climate change.
Former Irish President Mary Robinson said developed nations should go vegetarian to help fight climate change.

Sarah Collins

A food fight broke out this week over former President Mary Robinson's calls for developed nations to go vegetarian to help fight climate change.

Her comments sparked a backlash from the Irish Farmers' Association, which said her suggestion ignored the reality that meat consumption was on the rise in developing nations.

Environment minister Denis Naughten, who was in Brussels on Friday for an emergency meeting on the recent Paris climate agreement, said her idea was "unrealistic".

"I think it is unrealistic to ask the world to go vegan and vegetarian, and I think, you know, we need to appreciate that people need to have a balanced diet, and meat is part of that balanced diet," Mr Naughten told the Irish Independent in Brussels.

Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, the US and Brazil are the world's largest meat consuming countries, according to the OECD, while the EU comes in 14th place.

The OECD expects meat consumption to keep rising between now and 2025, though it says consumption growth will be slower in developed countries than it will be in developing nations.

Agriculture accounts for around 10pc pf the EU's carbon emissions, with fuel and transport emissions together making up the bulk, around 80pc.

"No other country in the world monitors, measures and manages carbon from farm to fork like Ireland does," said Thomas Cooney, the Irish Farmers' Association's (IFA) environment chairman.

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"This commitment to environmental improvement by so many farmers is unique. It represents a credible path for the sustainable intensification of the sector."

He said the EU should focus on reducing emissions in transport and energy, which would be "a better focus than pursuing unrealistic meat-free proposals".

However, a July paper by the EU's in-house think-tank ­expressed "serious concerns about the environmental ­impact of our present ­agricultural ­production methods" and ­argued for "a lower animal per hectare production process".

And the last few years have seen an increasing push towards eating vegetables.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1.7 million (or 2.8pc) of deaths worldwide are caused by low fruit and vegetable consumption, mostly due to gastrointestinal cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Last year, the WHO classified processed meat as a carcinogen, and said red meat was "probably carcinogenic" to humans.

Last week in the European Parliament, German ­Independent MEP Stefan Eck pleaded for a shift away from what he called "a destructive industrial model of food production fuelled by greed and without regard to sustainability".

"This alarming process is not only threatening traditional farming, more sustainable by definition, but the finite resources of our planet," Mr Eck said.

"A new course must be found."

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