Irish agriculture is “willing to embrace and accelerate” changes required for climate action – but “it cannot be asked to fall under a Dublin Bus…or a 4×4 in suburbia”, former agriculture minister Michael Creed told the Dáil.

In a Dáil debate on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, deputy Creed – who served as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine from 2016 to 2020 – pointed to the efficiency and reputation that the Irish agri-food sector has developed, stating:

“In the context of this debate, it is inescapably the answer that those who should produce it are first and foremost those who do it efficiently from a climate change and sustainability point of view.

“In this context, it is worth pointing out that the Joint Research Centre of the European Union has said the Irish dairy industry is the most efficient – not just in Europe but, along with New Zealand, globally.

“Why would we sacrifice our dairy industry on an altar of expediency when that opportunity would then be taken up by others?” he added.

“Would we prefer a shedload of 10,000 cows in California, or the deserts of north Africa or Saudi Arabia, or 1,000 cows across a parish in rural Ireland that are grass fed, outdoors for nine or 10 months of the year and whose sustainability credentials, by any stretch of the imagination, are far better than anybody else producing dairy?

“It begs the question as to whether the criticism is ideologically driven by a resistance and objection in principle to meat and dairy in people who would prefer that we drink almond juice. They might like to call it almond milk.

“A litre of almond milk, or almond juice more correctly, requires 6,000L of water to produce. This is something that is very often lost.

Continuing, the Cork North-West TD pointed to the relatively short-life nature of methane compared to carbon dioxide, adding:

“This is why the challenges for the agricultural sector need to be very different from the challenges for the built environment and the transport sector. This is something that very often is not appreciated.”

Highlighting that Irish agriculture’s reputation “is second to none”, the TD said:

“It is regrettable that people resort to name-calling with regard to the Irish agricultural sector when internationally, we have a reputation that many would seek to knock off us, and we need to be very careful about this.”

The former minister stressed to the Dáil that Irish agriculture “needs to embrace wholeheartedly” the challenges of climate change, noting:

“There have been improvements in herd genetics and soil fertility and in reducing the use of chemical fertilisers through better use and application of slurries.

“Not many people know, for example, that we measure the carbon footprint of approximately 50,000 farmers involved in the Green Low-carbon Agri-environment Scheme run by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

“The Irish agricultural sector is doing a lot. It is willing to take further steps and to embrace and accelerate the changes required – but it cannot be asked to fall under a Dublin Bus, an Iarnród Éireann train or, God forbid, a four-wheel drive in suburbia.

“We will carry our share, and in terms of the public goods we are asked to deliver, there is nobody who will shirk in the agricultural sector provided farmers are adequately remunerated for those challenges.

“That is a big challenge for my successor in the context of the next reform of the Common Agricultural Policy,” he added.

“This debate should not be seen in the context of agriculture as a binary choice between meat on the one hand, and vegetables or plant-based diets on the other. We have seen in recent days the safefood report on meat substitutes which will be interesting in terms of the debate around public health.”

Referencing “big business seeking to influence” the climate change debate, deputy Creed added:

“Anywhere one looks, in terms of research online, it is abundantly clearly that this is a big money-chasing economic opportunity, and trying to undermine the reputation of farmers and those involved in primary food production.

“I believe that the agricultural sector can, and will play its role. It has a very positive contribution to make, not as the problem in the context of climate change but in the context of the solutions,” the TD concluded.