Creed called upon to ‘correct misleading statements on dairy emissions’

Calls have been made for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, to “correct” what have been described as “misleading Dail statements on rising dairy emissions”.

On April 26 of this year, the minister responded to a parliamentary question from Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan relating to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the agriculture sector.

As part of his response, Minister Creed said: “In the agriculture sector, we have focused strongly on improving the efficiency of Irish farming – which is key to reducing GHG emissions.

“By way of example, in the five-year period 2012-2016, dairy cow numbers have increased by 22% and corresponding milk production by 27% – while emissions increased just 8%, demonstrating [that] a level of decoupling is occurring.”

However, An Taisce has stated that the minister “used these statistics incorrectly to claim they indicate a large improvement in dairy efficiency, as though the 8% emissions figure relates directly to the 22% and 27% figures for cow numbers and milk production”.

This is demonstrably untrue. The 8% rise has occurred in total agriculture emissions – so it cannot and must not be used as a figure for the rise in total dairy emissions in the way implied in this statement by Minister Creed.

Analysing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, An Taisce outlined that dairy CO2e (CO2 equivalent) emissions increased by 24% from 2012 to 2016.

This increase would be strongly coupled with the 22% increase in dairy cow numbers and the jump in milk production of 27%, it added.

‘Corrected as a matter of urgency’

The charity has called for the Dail record to be “corrected as a matter of urgency“.

It was also claimed that similar statements on the matter had been made by other department representatives.

In response, a spokesperson for the minister said: “Minister Creed – in his statement – identified that the 8% increase in emissions referred to the growth in total agriculture emissions for the five-year period (2012-2016) and reflects that, while dairy numbers (and emissions) are increasing, emissions from other sub-sectors of agriculture are contracting.

It is valid to consider the sectors as a whole in presenting this data. It is a biological system; so one cannot reasonably expect significant stepwise changes for a sector that is already among the most efficient at EU level, as noted by the Joint Research Centre (JRC).

The most significant drivers for increased emissions in 2016 were higher dairy cow numbers, with an increase in milk production, according to the spokesperson.

“This is a reflection of the removal of milk quotas in 2015 and the national plans to expand milk production under Food Wise 2025.

“In spite of this increased production, dairy production systems have been found to be extremely efficient and have one of the lowest carbon footprints internationally,” the spokesperson added.

‘False narrative’

However, An Taisce has stated that the minister and officials within the department are “repeatedly using largely unrelated numbers in a deeply misleading way that obscures the reality of the dairy expansion and the lack of any significant efficiency improvement”.

“This is unacceptable. Minister Creed and his departmental advisors are brazenly repeating a false narrative about dramatic decoupling of dairy production that is completely and demonstrably without foundation,” it concluded.