The Citizens’ Assembly proposals on greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture – which includes a proposal to tax farmers for food production emissions – has drawn strong responses from some of the country’s leading farm organisations.
Although the farm lobby groups acknowledge that elements of the recommendations, published yesterday (April 18), may be “workable”; the overarching view is that imposing mandatory carbon taxes on the sector is a non-runner.
The assembly – which is a body of 99 citizens chosen to be broadly representative of the state’s population and to deliberate on key issues in the constitution – has made 13 recommendations, by majority vote, on how Ireland should tackle climate change.
The report also states that: “There should be rewards for the farmer for land management that sequesters carbon. Any resulting revenue should be reinvested to support climate-friendly agricultural practices.”
The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has slammed the tax proposals as a “completely daft idea”.
Delivering a sharp put-down, ICSA president Patrick Kent said: “When you get daft proposals on additional taxes for farmers producing food enthusiastically backed by 89% of respondents, and a proposal for a new quango backed by 97% of respondents, it is obvious that this does not arise from balanced debate and careful reflection.
“Instead, it suggests that the findings have been orchestrated by the way the debate has been framed and the questions put.”
“Did anyone ponder the hypocrisy of favouring carbon taxes for the end-users of fuel; but not for beef or dairy?
The reality is that if the Citizens’ Assembly was asked if it favoured food taxes at retail level it would have been a lot slower to jump on the bandwagon.
“Moreover, it would then have to reflect on the fact that any such tax would have to be levied not just in Ireland; but in every country in the world where we export food.”
Kent said: “Applying a tax on Irish food production is daft because it ignores the inconvenient truth that people choose to eat and that most of these people are not actually in Ireland; but in markets all over Europe and further afield.
“If we close down Irish beef farmers, we simply relocate the production of beef to other parts of the globe where they don’t give a toss about citizens’ assemblies.
How stupid would it be to reduce Irish agricultural output so that the likes of Brazil could expand at a far higher environmental cost?
Noting that the assembly at least acknowledged carbon sequestration, Kent said: “Contrary to popular belief, this should not be about sitka spruce plantations; but about well-managed grassland farming combined with the maintenance of biodiverse landscapes.”
“A far more useful strategy would be to incentivise farmers to produce solar energy, or invest in anaerobic digestion, which produces renewable heat while reducing slurry emissions.”
Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Joe Healy also commented on the assembly’s decision, saying the carbon tax proposal is a “no-go”; but that there are other recommendations that could reduce carbon in the national economy.
Healy said increasing the existing carbon charge on farming would merely continue a failed policy of more taxes without delivering any reduction in national emissions.
However, he said there are many aspects of the report that provide a real platform for change in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Listing these, Healy said that the state should enable, through legislation, the selling back into the grid of electricity from micro-generation by private citizens – such as that produced through solar panels or wind turbines – at a price which is at least equivalent to the wholesale price.
The state should also act to ensure the greatest possible levels of community ownership in all future renewable projects, he added.
Healy called on all stakeholders to move on from “the often divisive and unrealistic” calls for Irish farmers to reduce their emission efficient model of dairy and beef production.
He said: “Farming has a real role to play in the climate debate and the decarbonisation of the energy sector, through the mobilisation of our land resources for renewable heat, transport and electricity production. This requires immediate policy certainty.”
- A change to the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities’ recent grid connection policy decision, to allow preferred grid access for farm-scale and community-based renewable projects;
- The introduction of a feed-in price support tariff for roof-top and ground-mounted micro and community renewable electricity projects by the Department of Energy;
- The ring-fencing of at least 20% of the price support paid by all citizens in their electricity bills for small-scale and community projects;
- The development of an end-use market for indigenous renewable energy produced in Ireland, by obliging all public building to use a minimum of 20% renewable heating and electricity.
Concluding, Healy said: “The publication of this Citizens’ Assembly report provides a real opportunity to restart the debate around Ireland’s response to the climate challenge in a more pragmatic way.”
Meanwhile, on behalf of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), the organisation’s president – Pat McCormack – said that it is vital that commentators are aware of progress already made and the overall context in which these matters should be discussed.
“Since 2000, Irish farming has effectively decoupled emissions from output – our increased output no longer results in proportionate increases in emissions,” McCormack explained.
“Those emissions are increasing overall, but that is due to the very significant expansion in production that every observer estimates is required to feed increasing populations.
Ireland is the most environmentally-friendly location in Europe for milk production and the fifth in Europe for beef production.
“If the food isn’t going to be produced in Ireland in a proportionately environmentally-friendly fashion, then where is it going to be produced and will it have less or more stress on the environment? We’d love to hear that question answered,” the president said.
“We are very conscious of the need to be proactive on this and in the area of anaerobic digestion, renewables and environmentally-friendly fertilisers – the ICMSA is totally committed to lowering our emissions as far and as fast as is practicable.
I do welcome any positive contribution to this, because the challenge is vast. But I do caution against a situation where we seem to have two official or semi-official policies on something that’s too important for any confusion.
“There already is a completely valid and empowered Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland; it’s called Dail Eireann and the ICMSA thinks that that’s the forum for this kind of fundamental and nationally strategic questions to be aired,” he concluded.