Environmental claims made by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney in regard to dairy expansion have been slammed as “inaccurate and misleading” by An Taisce.

It says claims made by Minster Coveney that the Irish dairy herd can be expanded by over 300,000 cows in the next five years “while maintaining the existing carbon footprint of the agriculture sector” are both inaccurate and misleading because a major increase in herd size by will by any objective measure sharply increase dairy emissions.

In a statement this morning the group said no amount of creative accounting involving complex carbon footprint calculations and lobbied-for EU special exemptions will alter these basic facts.

Minister Coveney made his claims on RTE’s PrimeTime earlier this week. An Taisce says in the course of an interview, he stated that the national dairy herd would increase by between 20-25% but that this massive increase would occur without commensurate increases in emissions from the agriculture sector.

This is, according to An Taisce’s climate change committee, completely without foundation in fact.

“The Minister’s claims about higher yields per animal magically causing such dramatic lowering of the carbon footprint per litre of milk as to offset the addition of almost a third of a million dairy cows to the national herd are manifestly false,” it said.

An Tasice cite Dairy Australia, a statutory body for its dairy industry, as an example, in advising farmers on how to reduce dairy emissions, it says the body has the following statement at the top of its list: “Reduce herd size to minimise total emissions”.

As recently as April 2014, An Taisce says then environment minister and now EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan warned that agriculture must become carbon neutral to fulfil its climate change obligations.” There can be no exceptions, there are no exceptions and there will be no exceptions”, Mr Hogan warned.

According to An Taisce despite Mr Coveney’s claims about improved emissions efficiency in Ireland’s dairy sector, data from the Environment Protection Agency* shows that methane (CH₄) emissions from ‘enteric fermentation’ in Irish dairy cows actually increased, from 101kg per head per annum in 1990 to almost 113kg per head in 2012.

It says methane is a potent greenhouse gas, some 24 times more powerful as a heat-trapping gas per molecule than CO₂.

An Taisce also says Minister Coveneny has also glossed over the inevitable increase in nitrates usage (Ireland is already failing to implement the EU Nitrates Directive, aimed at protecting freshwater from nitrate pollution). It says in addition, an extra 300,000 dairy cows means a commensurate rise in agricultural effluent, which when combined with more frequent flooding events, places Irish water courses at heightened risk.

“Minister Coveney personally understands the existential threat of climate change, and has spoken publicly about his fears for the future. However, apparently influenced by Taoiseach Enda Kenny (who has shown himself to be both hypocritical and hopelessly out of touch with the science of climate change) and beholden to industry lobbyists, Minister Coveney now appears to be resorting to voodoo accounting to prop up an entirely misguided agri-industrial growth-at-all-costs policy that goes against science.”

An Taisce claim that Minister Coveney’s claim that: “Ireland will be the fastest growing dairy producer on the planet” in the next decade betrays the true motivation here – the pursuit of short-term profit at the cost of any long-term vision for a sustainable future for Irish farming and a safer future for all Irish citizens.