Bruton: An Taisce programme ‘optional resource for debate’

The controversial green schools programme resource pack which encourages students to eat less meat and dairy and promotes veganism has been defended by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton.

Speaking on RTE Radio 1‘s Today with Sean O’Rourke this morning, Friday, April 5, the minister highlighted that the divisive packs are optional for schools.

Defending his decision to endorse the programme, Minister Bruton said: “I went through it in broad terms; I didn’t go through every exercise of it – but Green Schools as you know is a hugely successful initiative. 800,000 pupils are involved.

“The reality is that young people have been leading this debate and it’s really important that the education system facilitates a debate about climate action.

Now it’s important to know that this is a resource on the web that’s entirely optional. So, in different schools, their green schools council and their teachers will decide whether they want to use this or not.

“I think it’s really important that young people who are pioneering change and are demanding our generation that we take this seriously, that we facilitate a debate so that they can learn about this issue and make an informed decision for themselves.”

‘Meatless Mondays’

When pressed on the section of the resource which promotes “meatless Mondays”, the minister said that meatless Fridays were an obligation in times gone by and that young people today are “exploring issues about what diet they ought to have and what a balanced diet is”.

“Now I’m very clearly of the view that a balanced diet is a diet that includes meat and milk and clearly, but also, in the healthy pyramid it very much includes vegetables and fruit and so on and it’s really important that people learn about balance and debate these issues in our schools.

“A resource like this isn’t a table of stone handed down for people to say ‘I’m going to accept every word that’s discussed here’. These are resources for debate.”

The minister said that under the programme students are asked to discuss the issue of reducing one’s carbon footprint including through diet, transport, homes and community issues.

“Now of course people will debate also the different carbon impact of the different food choices that people make – that’s happening out in the marketplace, and if you talk to anyone who’s out selling, you have to be able to describe Irish products as low-carbon products compared to our competitors.

There’s more attention to this issue out in the marketplace and we have to be able to have an honest debate.

The minister said that, if he had moved to censor such school resources, he would be having “a very different interview” today.

When challenged on a point made by Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Joe Healy yesterday that the documents encourage veganism, noting that there’s a big difference between “cutting down” and “cutting out” meat, the minister said:

“The context in which cards like that were put up was to put out exaggerated claims, like another one was ‘Climate would be resolved on earth if we all moved to Mars’.

This was to stimulate a discussion in the classroom; this wasn’t something being recommended to be adopted.

“And that’s the new way we have to engage with these issues.

‘False suggestions’

“Because there’s a lot of false suggestions going out and it’s really important that young people have an informed debate and that is of course led by a teacher – but they have resources that can allow role-playing, different views to be explored and people to reach a discerning conclusion on these issues.”

Asked if the resource pack included information on Ireland’s agricultural efficiency, Minister Bruton said he did not know.

I don’t know whether it’s in this information pack but it is well known that we are more efficient, particularly in dairy and pigs, and less so in some of the other products, but we are particularly efficient in those areas.

“This isn’t dietary advice; this is a debate on what people might do; what sort of changes they could make in their lives and how they should consider these issues.

“Farmers have bought into this – we shouldn’t be defensive about a debate that is being led by young people that’s happening in reality.