“Simplistic” measurements put human health, farm income and climate ambition at risk, virtual attendees of this year’s Macra na Feirme national conference were told earlier this week.

The “One Health – From Soil to Society” conference was organised by Macra na Feirme, CEJA and Devenish Nutrition and supported by Macra Agricultural Skillnet on Friday morning, November 13.

Held via Zoom, the webinar – which doubled as Macra na Feirme’s annual conference – was told of the importance of farmers and farming to the core of human health, Macra said.

“The need to bring the measurements of foods impact on human health and the environment was a clear message running throughout the conference,” the young farmers’ organisation highlighted.

The risk of simplistic metrics for human nutrition was the key takeaway from the presentation by Prof. Alice Stanton from the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland.

Prof. Stanton demonstrated the risks to human health of ultra-processed products and their replacement of nutrient-dense foods like whole dairy and meat.

Conference delegates learned that based on metabolic studies ultra-processed diets cause excess calorie intake and weight gain.

Commenting, Macra na Feirme national president Thomas Duffy said: “The aim of increasing climate resilience and action must be pragmatic and not limit our farms’ ability to adapt.”

The need for better measurement of farming impact on the climate and moving from gross to net emissions was demonstrated through the Lighthouse Farm at Dowth lands, in presentations given by Dr John Gilliland and Dr Cornelia Grace of Devenish.

The farm at Dowth was able, through the use of more accurate measurement and new technology including measurement of hedgerows contribution to carbon sequestration through LiDAR, to demonstrate the potential for net-zero on beef farms.

In a panel discussion with Minister for State Pippa Hackett the risks of inaccurate measurement were highlighted by Duffy in regards to the aims of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and the potential for offloading of Europe’s environmental impact to the developing world.

Both Minister for State Hackett and Duffy agreed on the need for greater financial support for farmers using sustainable practices.

This was a point which was reiterated to the DG Sante representative Henk Westhoek, by CEJA president Jannes Maes.

Duffy added: “All change and environmental ambition will fail if not underpinned by real support for generation renewal.

“We must see the 4% of all the national envelope go directly to young farmers as proposed by the European Parliament,” the Macra president concluded.