Farm Ireland

Friday 19 April 2019

'Greenwashing' could backfire on farming

The Origin Green scheme rolled out by Bord Bia
The Origin Green scheme rolled out by Bord Bia
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Irish agriculture needs to back up its 'green' image with credible evidence rather than "glamour stories", Teagasc has warned.

"We've seen problems in other countries where they resort to glamour stories and greenwashing on biodiversity performance - that has major repercussions and backfires very quickly," Teagasc researcher and ecologist John Finn told the Farming Independent.

"In (Bord Bia's) Origin Green we are making very strong claims about sustainable performance and environmental performance that is creating a need for credible demonstration of sustainability - the industry needs credible evidence rather than glamour stories.

"If we are to continue with the sustainability claims that we are a clean, green food producing nation, we need to prove it. Other organisations outside of Ireland will be very quick to pounce on claims that we make."

Bord Bia defended the Origin Green programme, saying its ambition was to drive sustainability in food production at every point on the supply chain.

"Since the introduction of carbon footprint assessments on farms in 2013, over 212,000 individual carbon footprint calculations have taken place on over 37,000 dairy farms and 175,000 beef farms," stated Bord Bia.

"The carbon footprint calculations to date show a continued decline in the carbon footprint intensity related to the production of beef and dairy."

A new report on farm sustainability published by Teagasc last week has found that dairy farms are producing up to three times more greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions than other farming sectors.

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Teagasc researcher Trevor Donnellan said that while Irish farms have been improving their carbon efficiency, "emissions have been increasing, the dogs on the street know that".

"Emissions will continue to increase until efficiency catches up with growth in activity or until growth in activity comes down to reach the efficiency improvement," he said.

Dairy Industry Ireland spokesman Conor Mulvihill said the dairy model was not only sustainable but "absolutely vital" in delivering proper livelihoods and strong farming enterprises.

He pointed out that the report showed the emissions intensity for the production of a litre of dairy has dropped.

Mr Mulvihill said the dairy industry was committed to improving its carbon efficiency and adhering to water and soil quality targets to ensure the standards and reputation of the industry is maintained.


However, he added that dairy processors were aware that if they could not "deliver measurable improvements", the "regulatory system hammer will drop" and they will also "lose public support for the industry".

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA) said the Teagasc sustainability report has blown apart the narrative that suckler and beef farmers are the problem on climate change.

"The suckler herd is clearly not the problem when cattle farming systems produce less than half the emissions of intensive dairy systems per hectare," said ICSA president Patrick Kent.

"Where a hectare of land is switched from sucklers to intensive dairy, GHG emissions double. ICSA has been arguing for a long time that cattle and sheep farmers should not be the scapegoats for our climate change challenges.

"While there is no doubt that all sectors have to do their bit in being more efficient in terms of emissions, it is time for all to recognise that cattle, sheep and tillage systems give rise to between 2 and 4.2 tonnes CO2/ha compared with 8.5 tonnes for intensive dairy.

"This has serious implications for policy. It calls into question the long-standing advice to cattle and sheep farmers to intensify and expand output."

READ MORE: pages 2 & 13

Teagasc warns that Bord Bia's Origin Green campaign needs to be backed up by 'credible evidence'

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