‘Farmers are being used as political cover by the IFA’ – An Taisce

The environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) An Taisce has issued a scathing attack on the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

The national trust issued a harrowing statement on the farm organisation ahead of its event – taking place today – which, according to the IFA, aims to give “a balanced approach” to climate action in agriculture.

According to An Taisce’s statement: “The event is as likely to further mislead and misinform, rather than offer any scientifically justified ‘balance’.”

The IFA’s chosen presenter is Dr. Frank Mitloehner, of UC Davis, California, who, according to An Taisce, is “a highly controversial figure”.

The group claims that the keynote speaker at the IFA event “has significant ties with the beef, pork and dairy industries”.

Continuing, the NGO’s statement added: “In the context of the current election, this event can be seen as an effort at direct political lobbying.”

The group further outlined that the additional speakers Prof. John FitzGerald, chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC), and Dr. Frank O’Mara of Teagasc “will become open to public critique given the requirement for their advisory independence”.

The statement said: “Dr. Mitoehner presents himself to the public and the media as a ‘GHG [greenhouse gas] guru’, as if he is an expert on the climate effects of GHGs, yet he is not a climatologist.

Left uncorrected or unclarified, such confusions undermine his credibility, such that media and especially members of publicly funded advisory bodies, like the CCAC and Teagasc, would do best not to appear at lobbying events which seem likely to misinform the public, particularly in the run up to an election.

The group’s statement then moved to accuse the IFA president, Joe Healy, of “falsely” claiming that farmers are being ‘scapegoated when it comes to climate action’.

An Taisce said: “In fact, critics, including An Taisce, are saying that farmers have been misled by the IFA, which has worked hand-in-glove with the food processing industry, into supporting an agri-food strategy since 2010 that benefits processors.

This strategy has increased farmers’ input costs, financial risks and exposure to climate change impacts, without offering them any coherent plan for transitioning to less polluting forms of agriculture.

According to An Taisce: “Farmers are being used as political cover by the IFA and the agri-food industry to defend agri-food strategies that safeguard business-as-usual levies and profits rather than the well-being of farmers, citizens or nature. Sadly, this is what we have come to expect from the IFA.”

The NGO continued: “The IFA co-opting the CCAC and Teagasc, as if to confer credibility on Dr. Mitloenher as a genuinely independent expert, is of particular concern to An Taisce.”

Carbon footprint

The group’s statement continued: “The outgoing IFA president claims that the industry-supported measurement of milk or beef unit carbon footprint counts as climate action, whereas, in fact, total agricultural emissions continue to increase, which is the exact opposite of actual climate action.

Teagasc states in its 2018 abatement analysis that it spends €4 million annually on research toward reducing emissions, yet it too has utterly failed to enable any actual reduction in total annual emissions.

An Taisce added: “Unlike Teagasc, NGOs warned that the industry’s agri-food strategies, including the unwise ‘Food Wise 2025’, would increase GHG emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, and escalate soil, air and water pollution due to increased damaging inputs of animal feeds and synthetic nitrogen (N) fertiliser.

“The recent EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] Water Quality report confirmed agriculture as the leading cause of pollution in our rivers and estuaries,” according to An Taisce.

“The EPA also reports that agricultural methane has increased by 15% since 2011, and nitrous oxide emissions are up by 18%, both driven by greatly increased N fertiliser and feed use.”

Concluding, the An Taisce statement said: “An Taisce would strongly welcome scientifically robust debate on the climate challenges facing the agriculture sector.”