Bord Bia has refused to release documents on a new publicity drive with the meat and dairy industry due to a confidentiality agreement with private partners in the venture.
Replying to an Access for Information on the Environment request, the state body said that reports relating to the Meat and Dairy Facts initiative are “subject to a contractual duty of non-disclosure between Bord Bia and the parties to that Agreement governing the initiative”.
Other members of the project launched in October include several farming lobby groups, namely the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, the Irish Farmers Association, and Meat Industry Ireland.
The National Dairy Council, a private, farmer-funded marketing agency, and Dairy Industry Ireland, an IBEC initiative made up of Ireland’s industrial dairy manufacturing sector, are the other partners.
According to Bord Bia, the project aims to explain the role of animal protein as part of a balanced diet and how farmers and the industry “care for animals and the environment”.
The campaign also seeks to promote the “health benefits of Irish meat and dairy” and showcase the “pride we have in our sustainably produced livestock”, Bord Bia said.
On top of providing assistance through staff expertise and consumer-facing campaigns, the AIE request revealed that Bord Bia has also contributed €40,000 to the project.
The body did not reveal the funding contribution of its industry partners as it said that this would “constitute a breach of Bord Bia’s duty of confidence owed to those parties”.
The Green News also requested the minutes of meetings with partners in the project and media strategy documents, both of which were refused.
While considering the public interest in releasing documents linked to the work of public authorities, Bord Bia said that this was outweighed by the “public interest” in ensuring that the food industry can engage with it “without fear that confidential information will be disclosed to the public”.
The Green News has requested an internal review of the decision-making process, with Bord Bia expected to provide an answer by the end of November.
Raise the red flag
Bord Bia also refused to release media or communications plans for the project as this could result in a “material financial loss” to the parties involved and could “prejudice that initiative and therefore the commercial and competitive position of those parties”.
The Dublin-based communications agency Red Flag has been appointed to provide administrative, media and communications support to the project.
Red Flag was heavily involved in last year’s pan-European Freedom to Farm campaign that was marketed as a grassroots farmer-led campaign opposing a ban on the weedkiller glyphosate that has been linked to cancer.
Last month, four members of Extinction Rebellion Ireland glued themselves to the front door of Red Flag’s Dublin office with a sign reading “promoting RoundUp, now Irish meat and dairy”.
Dairy driving Irish emissions
Agriculture accounts for 33 per cent of our overall emissions in Ireland and went up almost two per cent in 2018 according to the latest data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The environmental watchdog said that the emissions increase was driven by the continued increase in dairy cow numbers – up 27 per cent in the last five years alone.
Speaking last month, the agency’s director Laura Burke said that agricultural emissions are now above 1990 levels for the first time in 18 years as dairy cow numbers, milk production and fertiliser use all went up.
Greater efficiencies in the sector won’t solve the problem of rising emissions until we uncouple the link to economic activity, Ms Burke warned.
Rising ammonia emissions from the agricultural sector remain one of the key contributors to air pollution in Ireland. The EPA states that limiting ammonia emissions will be difficult due to Ireland`s ambitious targets under Food Wise 2025.
Ammonia emissions are harmful to the environment through the likes of soil and water contamination, as well as to human health by triggering respiratory problems.
Grassland primarily used for grazing accounted for 58 per cent of total land use in Ireland in 2017, with nitrogen fertiliser used to encourage grass growth. According to Teagasc, spraying is an important source of nitrous oxide that accounts for 15 per cent of total agri- emissions.
According to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, unsuitable agriculture practice is one of the main drivers of habitat decline in Ireland, negatively impacting over 70 per cent of habitats.