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Food strategy aims for greener output but cuts to herd numbers are left off the menu


Strategy does not call for cutting herd numbers

Strategy does not call for cutting herd numbers

Strategy does not call for cutting herd numbers

The food Ireland produces and exports can be carbon neutral by 2050 despite plans to grow the industry and maintain cattle numbers, a new strategy unveiled yesterday claims.

Food Vision 2030, jointly produced by state agencies, farm groups and the food industry, targets a 50pc rise in the value of food exports over the next 10 years to €21bn, while also cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Methane emissions from livestock are to drop by at least 10pc while nitrous oxide emissions from fertilisers will fall by more than 50pc.

The strategy does not, however, call for a cut in herd numbers which most scientists and campaigners say is needed to reduce methane.

“This issue is the subject of strongly opposing views, and will need further detailed examination in order to make an informed policy choice,” Tom Arnold, chair of the Food Vision 2030 committee said.

Their 200-page report focuses instead on greater farm efficiency, research into feed additives that reduce methane, new grass growth methods so that pasture retains more carbon and other ‘carbon farming’ initiatives.

“There is an urgent need to develop expertise in methane science and soil carbon sequestration,” it says.

The dairy and beef sectors must produce detailed plans next year as to how they will have a “sustainable environmental footprint”.

Agriculture accounts for one third of Ireland’s greenhouse gases but while less methane is produced than carbon dioxide and it leaves the atmosphere faster, the warming effect of methane is 80 times that of carbon when it is at its most potent.

While the strategy shies away from radical action on this front, it does add that the methane reduction targets will be updated according to measures to be adopted under the new Climate Action Act.

The Act requires five-year ‘carbon budgets’ to be drawn up for every sector of society and the economy which will put mandatory limits on the emissions they produce.

The commitment to update targets drew a mixed response to the strategy from the environmental sector.

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The Environmental Pillar had a seat on the 32-member committee but withdrew last February, saying the strategy was not shaping up to do what was needed to address climate and environmental issues.

Friends of the Earth director, OisÍn Coghlan, said: “I welcome the fact that it explicitly acknowledges that final targets for reducing agricultural pollution will be set under the new climate law.

“I look forward to agriculture doing its fair share as the Oireachtas sets Ireland's first carbon budget in the autumn and the Government sets challenging five-year targets for every sector.”

However, he added it was an “industry-led plan” and said it was “not aligned with our international obligations on climate pollution, biodiversity and water quality”.

Those issues are addressed in the strategy which also aims to double the afforestation rate, reserve 7.5pc of farmland for organic production, allow wildlife space on 10pc of farmland and cut pollution run-off from farmland to waterways by 50pc.

Farmers are to have support to adopt renewable energy sources, install solar panels, supply biomass (specially grown and waste plant material) for fuel and adopt anaerobic digesters to turn biomass into gas.

Dairies, food factories, the fishing industry and forestry are also to improve their production processes in line with the carbon neutrality target.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue, who will oversee implementation of the strategy, said protecting the incomes of farmers and fishers would be a priority.

“The incomes of our producers are central and critical to the success of Food Vision 2030 as they are the bedrock of our world-class agri-food sector,” he said.

“The strategy recognises the crucial role the sector has and will continue to play in rural and coastal communities.”

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