It would be foolhardy in the extreme to curb the production of beef in a country where we produce in an extensive grass-based system, according to Cormac Healy of Meat Industry Ireland (MII).

The IBEC body made the statement regarding the COP21 Climate Change negotiations.

Healy, the Director of MII, said that Ireland is far more efficient and sustainable than elsewhere in the world at beef production.

“Irish beef, for example, has the fifth lowest carbon footprint in Europe and is far more sustainable than beef production in South America.

MII strongly supports the views expressed by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, at COP 21 in Paris this week in describing the progressive steps being taken to play our part in meeting the challenge of climate change and to further improve the efficiency and sustainability of agriculture and food production in Ireland.

“Ireland’s grass-based production system has unique natural advantages for farming in an environmentally friendly way and we have responsibly faced up to the challenges of addressing agricultural emissions and preserving the natural environment.

A range of programmes are in place aimed at reducing and mitigating emissions, while protecting water quality and biodiversity.

“The meat industry strongly supports the argument that environmental protection, economic competitiveness and food security should not be disentangled; instead they should be seen as complementary policies each fulfilling important goals, being mutually dependent rather than being mutually exclusive.

“While industry fully understands that a high proportion of greenhouse gas emissions are accounted for by agriculture, this is due on the one hand to the major role that agriculture has in our national economy and on the other hand to the absence of traditional heavy industry in Ireland,” he said.

Healy said that Ireland’s agri-food sector remains very sustainable compared to food production in many other parts of the world.

The meat sector alone supports over 100,000 jobs across farming and processing in rural Ireland and accounts for some €3.5 billion in export earnings annually.

“Irish agriculture is playing its part; Ireland is adopting the latest in science and technology; beef genomics for example.

“The meat sector is also committed to the Origin Green initiative, an independently verified, national scale sustainability programme,” he said.

Healy added that we must not forget that food is an internationally traded commodity and, like climate change, food security will remain a major global challenge into the future.

“With an inexorable and rapidly growing world population is it not equally important that food should continue to be produced from areas where it is produced most efficiently and where there is a proven track record of sustainable production matched by verifiable reductions in the carbon footprint?”

Healy quoted The World Bank saying that: “if every cow was as good as the top 10% produced in Ireland we would have one-third less methane emissions on the planet.”