Minister: ‘We need to have a serious debate about all aspects of methane’

“We need to have a serious debate about all aspects of methane,” Minister Charlie McConalogue said, speaking in the Seanad this afternoon.

Ag Climatise – the national climate and air roadmap for the agriculture sector – is currently being discussed by senators.

‘Bedrock of every rural village in Ireland’

In his opening speech, the Minister for Agriculture said:

“The Covid-19 pandemic remains the immediate challenge for many economies globally, but we cannot lose sight of other challenges.

“Protecting farm incomes and climate challenge remain in firm focus, both for me personally, and for this government.

The agri-food sector is Ireland’s largest and most important indigenous export industry. From our farmers, our fishers and food producers to our processors, the sector plays a vital role in Ireland’s economy and the fabric of our rural communities and societies.

“It is the bedrock of every rural village in Ireland.”

The minister said that the sustainability of Ireland’s food production system is “recognised internationally”, nevertheless, there are challenges ahead for food production systems globally.

‘It won’t be easy’

“Whilst farmers have delivered much in the way of efficiency gains in recent years, it must also be recognised that some environmental metrics have deteriorated in recent years,” he continued.

“I need to be clear – it won’t be easy. All stakeholders will need to come together in a spirit of collaboration.

There has been significant scientific debate around biogenic methane and the role it plays in global warming. Biogenic methane is produced in the rumen of grazing livestock such as cattle and sheep.

“These debates are happening within respected international organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We need to have a serious debate about all aspects of methane, and this is something that in my role, I am keen to lead on.

“Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, but the Programme for Government recognises that it has distinct characteristics that need to be taken into account in government policy.

“In time, I believe that a technological solution will be found which will contribute to methane reduction, mainly in the form of methane reducing feed additives and livestock breeding improvements.”

‘We need to counter this narrative’

The minister said that he believes that livestock has come in “for some unfair criticism in recent times”.

“There are those within the general population that believe eating a hamburger is more detrimental to our planet than getting on an airplane. We need to counter this narrative,” he said.

The creation of a narrative that alienates our farmers is unhelpful.

“We have to work together on this, if we want it to work.  And, in my experience, farmers are custodians of the land and want to contribute positively to the environment.

“We must lead from the front on the global climate agenda and ensure that our progress is clearly communicated to food consumers all over the world.

“Otherwise, consumers and other purchasers of Irish food may turn to other sources for their dairy and meat proteins.”

‘I am excited about the future’

He added that the new CAP will be important to drive delivery of the Ag Climatise targets, but that he has been clear with farming organisations that “CAP cannot do it all”.

“All stakeholders will need to play their part, particularly industry players who can drive behavioural change at farm level,” he said.

“I am excited about the future; this decade will be a decade of change for Irish agriculture, but I can assure you that in 10 years time, even in 20 years time and beyond, producing high quality meat and milk protein will remain the bedrock of Ireland’s agri-food industry.”