The impact of climate change presents both an opportunity and a threat for the Irish dairy sector, a special industry conference heard recently.

Held at the Teagasc Ashtown conference centre in Dublin, the conference included details of a Safefood-sponsored research project.

The research project surveyed dairy industry stakeholders to determine their level of awareness of the potential impacts that climate change could create.

Stakeholders from right across the dairy supply chain demonstrated a high level of awareness of climate change, Professor Thia Hennessy, from University College Cork’s Department of Food Business, said.

These stakeholders also showed a commitment to collective action to avail of any opportunities climate change may bring, the principal researcher in the project added.

The study confirmed that climate change presents both an opportunity and a threat for the Irish dairy sector, Trevor Donnellan, who is a research collaborator from Teagasc, said.

The threats identified in the survey included extreme weather events and the emergence of new diseases and pests.

“By contrast the development of unfavourable climate conditions in some of the world’s key milk-producing countries could offer an advantage to the Irish dairy sector, since the Irish climate is likely to be less adversely affected.

“One of the major recommendations of this research was that more planning is required to consider how to deal with extreme weather events,” he said.

It is hoped that science and technology can play a major role in tackling climate change, but the conference heard that there are obstacles to getting technology from the lab to the farm.

The research project revealed that not all farmers were eager to adopt technological developments, an issue the researchers believe needs to be addressed.

Stakeholders felt that technologies being developed to address greenhouse gas emissions should be discussed with farmers in the developmental stage to establish their practicality.

Meanwhile, climate change may also pose a threat for food safety, Katrina Campbell from Queen’s University Belfast, who also collaborated on the research, said.

“Climate change may also pose a threat for food safety, as one of the most prevalent food safety hazards within the dairy industry is mycotoxins which emerge in animal feed.

“Warmer and wetter climates, as projected for Ireland under climate change, would contribute to a proliferation in fungal growth and thereby increase mycotoxin contamination,” she said.

In order to counter the potential impact of climate change on food safety, Campbell believes new innovative technology and monitoring systems must be invested in.

The new systems would help to ensure that climate change consequences would not become a threat from the start point in the dairy food chain, she said.

“New testing methods to detect contaminants may need to be investigated in order to prevent transmission through the food chain and into human consumption,” she added.