Five facts about Irish agriculture that may surprise you for World Food Day

Published by Laurie Manetta on

October 17th, 2016

For World Food Day 2016 we are being asked to reflect on the impact of climate change on food production.

It is worth taking stock of the impact Irish agriculture is having on climate change, biodiversity, and food security.

World Food Day 2016 theme is : “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” The global challenge is to feed a growing world population in a sustainable way. Reducing food waste begins to really concern people and organisations, however, changing agriculture is a less common issue.

What about changing Irish agriculture? In recent months members of the Environmental Pillar and Stop the Climate Chaos compiled a document in which they deal with the myths around Irish agriculture.

Here are some of the key facts:

1- Irish agriculture is not efficient. Methane produced per head of cattle has increased in Ireland since 1990. Emissions reductions can now only be achieved through a substantial reduction in total cattle numbers (from the current number of approximately seven million) over the next two decades, and/or a reduction in yield.

Despite concerns about carbon leakage, there is no support from industry members for a carbon tax on beef and dairy products that would actually recognise efficiency savings, or prevent leakage to cut emissions.

2- Irish agriculture is not contributing to global food security. Efforts to address global food security should focus on the real issue of supporting the majority of the world’s farmers, who are small scale producers engaged in subsistence agriculture, who for example produce 70 per cent of Africa’s food supply.

3- Intensive agriculture is the greatest threat to water
quality in Ireland. Eutrophication of rivers and lakes due to phosphorous losses from agriculture continues to be the most critical impact of Irish agriculture on water quality.

4- Intensive agriculture and afforestation are significant
pressures & threats to Ireland’s biodiversity. Over 90 per cent of Ireland’s internationally important habitats have ‘bad’ or ‘inadequate’ status, including semi-natural grasslands, blanket bog, wet and dry heath, and fens. These are all habitat types which are at risk of agricultural intensification or afforestation.

5- Ireland’s ruminant-dominated agriculture produces climate inefficient food. Bovines and sheep are inherently climate inefficient; their production yields large amounts of methane and nitrous oxide. Cattle and sheep based production systems require large inputs of land, grain, water, and/or fertiliser to increase yield.  Ireland is less efficient than the European average in greenhouse gases per calorie of bovine food production.

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Laurie Manetta

Laurie is a contributor to the Green News. She is currently undertaking a Master's Degree in Environmental Policy at Sciences PO Grenoble in France.