IFA and ICMSA claims undermine urgent need for real climate action and protection of rural communities

Industry organisations misrepresent Citizens’ Assembly proposals on climate change at Oireachtas Committee

The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition* refutes claims made by the IFA and ICMSA at Wednesday’s (12th Dec) session of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action. The IFA and ICMSA misrepresented and unfairly rejected the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations in relation to climate action in agriculture. Dismissing expert presentations (including those from Teagasc and other academic and farming experts), they claimed that the evidence presented to the Assembly was somehow ‘biased’. The organisations also made misleading comments that the Assembly’s recommendations could be ignored as they may not favour the interests of large meat/dairy exporters and multinationals.

The reality is that the industry-led policy Food Harvest 2020, now replaced by Food Wise 2025[1], has already led to a major expansion in livestock numbers, particularly in the dairy sector following the abolition of milk quotas. On-going intensification has had, and will inevitably have, increasingly negative effects on biodiversity, water and soil quality and our greenhouse gas emissions, notwithstanding misleading assertions by certain agri-food industry groups. As meat and dairy production are major and growing contributors to climate-polluting emissions in Ireland[2], Stop Climate Chaos believes that agriculture needs to shift its trajectory away from ever increasing beef and dairy production in favour of farm diversification, organic agriculture, wetland restoration and afforestation in line with the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly.

Despite claims by the IFA that the meat and dairy industry simply benefits the Irish  economy, 90% of dairy output is exported; and much of this is powdered milk and food ingredients. In fact, there are only 17,000 dairy farmers out of a total of 140,000 farmers in Ireland. All livestock farming urgently requires a transition pathway to a more sustainable and low emissions model in a manner that supports livelihoods and rural development. Agri-food exports represent 10% of export value of the country in 2017, yet this manufacturing sector is demanding a privileged greenhouse gas tax-free status compared with any other sector.

 

According to a spokesperson for the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition:

The scientific facts speak for themselves: the agriculture sector is Ireland’s largest emitter and the situation is worsening due to a focus on ever-expanding meat and dairy production. This prioritisation of production over quality pushes our per capita emissions up to the third highest in the EU.

“There is no scientific analysis that supports expanding the dairy and beef sectors as a sustainable approach. The IFA and ICMSA are misleading their members and the Irish public, and doing the Assembly a great disservise  by misrepresenting their work. The members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee need to challenge repeatedly debunked myths about agriculture and climate change**, for it is tax-payers that will end up paying the price for climate inaction. Instead of dismissing the Assembly’s constructive recommendations and peddling dangerous myths about Irish meat and dairy production, the IFA should be promoting a just transition towards sustainable diets and farming to protect Irish consumers and Irish farmers and food producers.”

 

The IFA unjustifiably contends that the sector is vulnerable to ‘carbon leakage’, and that if Ireland’s agri-food sector does not supply markets, other countries will. SCC strongly rejects this misleading argument. The idea that the Irish meat and dairy industry should be considered differently from other sectors is deeply flawed. The meat and dairy sector contributes disproportionately to both global climate change, local water pollution, and biodiversity loss. The Exchequer will be required to foot the bill for purchasing carbon credits when we overshoot Ireland’s 2020 targets.

The agricultural sector is not even subject to the existing carbon tax on fuels – no carbon tax is paid on agricultural diesel, and no VAT is paid on nitrogen fertilisers which also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. In effect, the IFA wants exemption from the polluter pays principle, and in the expectation that everyone else should foot their bill instead. Other claims that meat and dairy emissions can be simplistically bracketed off on the scientifically dubious grounds that they are non-CO2 [3] only means that other sectors will have to ratchet up their efforts even more.

 

[1] Both Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025 are industry-led policies which have been adopted by Government and heavily promoted by the agri-food industry.

[2] According to the most recent figures from the EPA, agriculture emissions increased by 2.9% or 0.57 Mt CO2eq in 2017 following an increase in 2016 of 2.7%. The most significant drivers for the increased emissions in 2017 according to the EPA are higher dairy cow numbers (+3.1%) with an increase in milk production of 9.2%. In the last 5 years, dairy cow numbers have increased by 26.1% and corresponding milk production by 38.8%. This reflects national plans to expand milk production under Food Wise 2025 and the removal of the milk quota in 2015. In 2017, there were also increased CO2eq emissions from synthetic fertiliser application on agricultural soils (+10.3%). Agriculture is now 46% of the total national emissions that are subject to a binding reduction target. Agriculture emissions have now increased by 2% since the reference year of 2005, despite the fact that the national target requires an overall reduction of 20% by 2020.

[3]  See https://www.ifa.ie/five-steps-to-support-farmings-contribution-to-climate-action-ifa/ “Re-examine the climate metrics applied when calculating methane, given the short-lived behaviour of methane in the atmosphere.”


Notes

– *Stop Climate Chaos  is the civil society coalition campaigning for Ireland to do its fair share to tackle climate change. The Coalition’s 33 members include overseas aid and development, environmental, youth and faith-based organisations.

– ** Detailed analysis of Irish agriculture in the context of Ireland’s climate obligations is contained in the in-depth report ‘Not So Green: Debunking the Myths around Irish Agriculture’ produced by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and the Environmental Pillar.

– Stop Climate Chaos has produced a summary of common misconceptions and questions on climate change and agriculture here.

– Full information on the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations, as well as presentations received, is available here.

– Information on the Joint Committee on Climate Action, including statements made at Committee meetings is available here. A full transcript of Wednesday’s proceeding will be made available on the Oireactas website.

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