EPA call for public to eat less meat deleted for being ‘too flippant’

Tweet in August triggered criticism from lobby groups including Irish Farmers’ Association, Freedom of Information Act request shows

Officials in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initially felt complaints it received about a controversial social media post encouraging people to eat less meat did not “warrant” a response.

However, Laura Burke, director general of the EPA, said she felt the tone of the post had been “too flippant for a complex, important and often emotive topic”, internal correspondence shows.

In late August, the State’s environmental regulator posted on X, formerly Twitter, advising people they could be “healthier, wealthier and more fabulous” by cutting down on the amount of red meat they ate.

The post quickly drew a barrage of criticism from farming lobby groups, including the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), leading the EPA to delete the post, a decision which in turn was criticised by climate activists.

READ MORE

Internal correspondence released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act shows the State agency initially played down the complaints about the social media post.

An official in the agency’s communications department said the tweet was “fine” and such complaints would not usually “warrant a response”.

Another EPA official said they “completely” stood over the post as its message “was one of environmental protection”.

In correspondence to the agency, the IFA said the message had caused “considerable anger amongst farmers” and asked for the tweet to be deleted “as a matter of urgency”.

Dairy Industry Ireland, which represents dairy processors, told the agency it had “serious concerns” about misinformation in the post, which undermined the regulator.

Following the backlash, the agency deleted the post, later stating it had intended to share helpful advice but the message had been “open to interpretation” and “may have been perceived differently”.

In an internal message to all staff, Ms Burke said

she understood some members of the public, as well as staff in the agency, “may have felt disappointed” when the post was removed.

“We did not take it down because anyone asked us to do so. We took it down because part of the post, and the tone, was something we could not stand over,” she said.

“We are a serious agency, and while there are times for humour, this was not one,” she told staff in a September 1st email.

The initial decision to post the tweet and the subsequent decision to delete it drew criticism from both farmers and environmental campaigners respectively.

One person wrote to the agency to state they were delighted the EPA had become “the political wing of the vegans”, while another said the agency appeared to be promoting an agenda against livestock farmers.

Another complaint said the social media post had been a “cheap shot”, with several people writing to the EPA questioning whether dietary advice was within the remit of the agency.

On the other side of the debate, members of the public wrote to the agency to criticise it for removing the post and “capitulating” to farming lobby groups.

One person complained that the EPA had folded “at the first sign of pressure” and would be seen as a regulator with “no teeth”.

“Could ye seriously get a backbone and stand up to the IFA,” another member of the public wrote.

A further complaint questioned whether the regulator had become the “Farmers’ Protection Agency”.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times