Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

Reduction of Carbon Emissions of 51% by 2030: Discussion (Resumed)

Dr. Oliver Moore:

One of the problems with the new Common Agricultural Policy is that monitoring and evaluation in an objective, neutral third party way will be likely restricted, which is not good for proving what we are supposed to be able to do. Individual cases such as signpost farms and so on can do very well but it looks like 40% of all our emissions will be from agriculture by 2030, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Some 85% of our nitrogen pollution in rural areas comes from agriculture. We also have to bear in mind that agriculture is having a major impact. There are very few pristine rivers left and biodiversity indicators are going in the wrong way. In terms of carbon footprint, the dairy sector scores really well per kilogram, it is joint first with Austria, but the beef sector scores fifth and sheepmeat sector scores 11th. Consequently, we are the carbon leakage for other countries in Europe in the beef and sheepmeat sectors. There is much more to it. Outside Europe, feedlot systems can produce better efficiency per kilogram because they take up almost no land. There is much progress we need to make beyond individual farms.

In terms of labelling and coming up with a really good label that defines sustainability, we have come up with one and it is called organic. It exists and has done for decades, since at least 1991 when the pan-European organic regulation first came in. Some of the literature I included with my longer submission showed using 12 different sustainability metrics, the organic sector outperforms the conventional sector in ten, it performs the same in one, and it performs worse in one. When one goes through all the categories that are necessary, the organic sector outperforms the conventional sector. The areas where it is questionable is on per hectare versus per kilogram with respect to climate and to yield. They are the two areas where it falls down. One of them, depending on how one conceptualises the issue, is whether it is a per hectare absolute emissions issue or a per kilo issue.

If we are heading towards 40% emissions from agriculture by 2030 we need to think in absolute terms. We need to comprehensively develop the organic sector in order that farmers have the option of moving to organic production if it suits them. I refer to spending €150,000 a year on an organic advocacy initiative as part of a full spectrum development of the organic sector in order that consumers will see the organic logo and know what it means when they see it. Bord Bia spends €1 million promoting the organic sector at home and abroad. Clearly, it is not enough not when we have a target of 7.5% of farmland to be under organic production by 2030. The last target was 5% of farmland to be under organic production by 2020 and we got to somewhere between 1.6% and 2.4% depending on how one looks at the figures. We completely failed. We have put the exact same types of systems in place to completely fail again. That is doing a disservice to farmers. The organic market is growing faster than the conventional market. Some 5,000 farmers a year are joining the organic scheme in France. France is a very comparable country to Ireland. The dairy sector is predominant in the north west of France and the rest of France has a mixture of tillage, vineyards fruit and so on and beef production is everywhere. It is a comparable country to Ireland and it was an organic laggard 20 years ago.

We need to give consumers an option. We need to promote the organic label and logo better. We need a full spectrum approach to sustainability. We should bear in mind, as I pointed out in my submission, employment rates are higher in the organic sector and organic farmers tend to be younger. In Austria 26% to 27% of farmland is organic and it has the youngest farming cohort in Europe. It could be a coincidence or it could be that we need to do research to identify what farmers and potential farmers want, what people who need access to land want and what consumers want. There is a great deal of work not being done. Under the new Horizon Europe, which is Europe's main funding for scientific research, 30% of that money will be available to promote the organic sector, the full spectrum, including in research and development. Teagasc, Bord Bia, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, have an obligation to access that money to develop the organic sector properly to give farmers a real opportunity to diversify into organic farming if it suits them.


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