Farming groups say Lancet report fails to recognise carbon efficient production in Ireland

Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Responding to the report published by The Lancet calling for an overhaul of dietary advice to include a reduction of 90pc in meat consumption has been strongly criticised by farming organisations.

The report says a reduction in red meat consumption in Ireland and other developed countries of approximately 90pc is needed and calls for radical changes to dietary guidelines, the introduction of meat taxes, and other drastic measures.  

IFA President Joe Healy said the report fails to take any account of how carbon efficiently food is produced in different regions of the world, or the very high standards that Irish farmers adhere to.IFA President Joe Healy said Irish farmers are engaged in climate action.

"We have very efficient food production systems in Ireland from a climate perspective.  We are the most carbon efficient dairy producer in Europe and amongst the top five in beef. It’s important that this sustainable production is not restricted, as it would lead to increased international climate emissions. This would happen because regions like the Brazilian Amazon in South America would be deforested to meet this growing demand”.

The Teagasc climate roadmap, published in June last year, represents a clear strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the sector. However, it requires whole of Government support. The IFA has written to An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and sought his climate leadership in co-ordinating the key Government Departments and state agencies to fully deliver this climate roadmap.”

Joe Healy said proteins from beef and dairy are an important part of a balanced diet. The threat to public health from obesity is well documented. Dietary balance, variety and moderation combined with an active lifestyle remain the single-most important message we all need to act upon, and this is what public health authorities must focus on.

He said it was a ludicrous distraction to suggest that people should have little or no meat and dairy as part of their diet.

ICMSA President Pat McCormack  in 2017 the same journal, had released a survey of 135,000 adults that maintained that those who cut back on fats had far shorter lives than those who consumed butter, cheese and meats.

"If this is a global problem then what are we doing talking about an ‘Irish’  problem or any other individual nation? If it’s a global problem than the response must be global and that’s going to mean a global move towards producing specific foods in the specific locations most scientifically suitable with least environmental stress.

"In Ireland’s case that means dairy – where we are the most environmentally sustainable on the planet – and beef, where we are in the top five."

Farming in the EU produces around 10pc of total carbon emissions, he said, while energy produces over 80pc, when are we going to hear the proposals for that energy production sector that’s responsible for eight times more carbon emissions than the food sector?”

According to the Lancet report, a "planetary health diet" requiring a massive shift from meat to vegetable consumption is needed to protect the well-being of future generations and the planet, according to a major international report.

Moving to healthier, more sustainable eating habits around the world could prevent 11 million premature deaths globally per year by 2050, scientists claim.

It would also reduce the damaging effects of climate change, soil erosion, deforestation and loss of biodiversity.

But the benefits come at a price. Red meat and sugar consumption would have to halve at least, while that of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes such as lentils and chickpeas must double.

And it comes amid a political storm after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted he was cutting back on meat consumption for environmental reasons.

The Fine Gael leader faced a backlash from farmers and rural TDs for comments made on Monday.

The solution, based on three years of modelling studies, is a diet consisting of around 35pc of calories obtained from whole grains and tubers, and protein mostly derived from plants.

While permitting variations based on local need and culture, the diet allows for an average of just seven grams of red meat per day and 500 grams of vegetables and fruits.

Daily poultry consumption would be confined to 29 grams - equivalent to one and a half nuggets - and fish to 28 grams, a quarter of a medium sized fillet.

Eggs would be restricted to around 1.5 per week.

The EAT-Lancet Commission brought together 37 experts from 16 countries specialising in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and politics.

Professor Tim Lang, one of the authors from City, University of London, said: "The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong.

"We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country's circumstances.

"While this is unchartered policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies.

"The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change."

Findings from the experts are reported in the latest issue of The Lancet medical journal.

Online Editors