Plant-based food only cuts emissions by 10pc
A MOVE toward plant-based food production would only lead to a 10pc reduction in on-farm emissions at best, a Teagasc official has said.
Teagasc researcher Dr Sinead McCarthy says that Ireland's grassland system is so suited to meat and dairy production that a switch to a more plant-based production system would only deliver limited results on reducing farming's carbon footprint.
"There is a possibility to produce both (meat and plant based) but we need to be careful regarding the land we choose to use differently. It would not necessarily result in a lower carbon footprint. Some research indicates that as a result of the higher inputs of fertiliser and so on that are required to produce plant-based crops, there may be, at best, a 10pc to 12pc reduction in carbon footprint.
"It is not a direct swap of one for the other as there are other challenges in changing farming practices and the resultant dietary CO2," she told members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture meeting on CAP.
She added that despite the food mile reduction that would occur if Ireland produced more plant-based food, it is not always possible to recommend a plant-based diet to certain vulnerable groups in the community.
For example, older adults consume less food but need a higher protein intake.
"They would need to eat four to five times the amount of lentils or beans to get the same amount of protein and it would not be possible for them to eat that much food," said Dr McCarthy.
"There is a role for both plant and animal protein in diet and it is about getting the balance right in terms of achieving concordant measures of health and sustainability.
"One must not focus solely on the carbon footprint of the diet without taking account of the nutrition and health outcomes," she stated.
Dr McCarthy explained that since 80pc of food's carbon footprint happens on-farm, it is important to encourage both small and large-scale farming to ensure a sustainable future for Irish food production.
"It is very important that we put measures in place from a sustainability perspective to reduce the carbon footprint of food as it is being produced and support smaller farmers to produce food more sustainably.
"Farming should not be only large-scale and intensive. CAP could address this by implementing more sustainable practices at farm level."
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