Government greenlights new agri-food strategy despite criticism

Food Vision 2030 report sets out roadmap for sustainable expansion of sector

The strategy commits to a 10 per cent cut in biogenic methane by 2030, but does not set a target on reducing livestock numbers. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The strategy commits to a 10 per cent cut in biogenic methane by 2030, but does not set a target on reducing livestock numbers. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

A new strategy for Ireland’s food and drinks sector over the next decade, which sets a path for continued expansion while embracing sustainable production, has been approved by the Government.

The Food Vision 2030 report, published on Tuesday, sets out a roadmap with exports rising from €14 billion to €21 billion by 2030, “further enhancing Ireland’s position as global leader in safe, sustainable agri-food exports”.

It envisages Ireland becoming “a world leader in sustainable food systems over the next decade, delivering benefits for the sector, for Irish society and the environment”. It was developed by a cross-sectoral committee of 30 agri-food stakeholders.

When a draft version was issued earlier this year, the Environmental Pillar (EP), representing 26 NGOs, withdrew from the process.

“The follow-up to Food Wise 2025, as drafted, perpetuated the business-as-usual model of intensification pursued for the past 10 years,” the EP said, “rather than drive the ecological transformation we need for agriculture and assure a future for all farmers.”

The strategy sets as its first goal to “develop a climate-neutral agri-food system so that by 2050, the climate impact of methane is reduced to zero and remaining agricultural emissions are balanced by removals”.

Detailed plans

It calls for immediate implementation of the Ag Climatise roadmap previously produced by the Department of Agriculture, and calls for detailed plans by mid-2022 “to manage the sustainable environmental footprint of the dairy and the beef sectors”.

It warns: “Ag Climatise makes clear that any increase in biogenic methane emissions from increased livestock numbers will jeopardise the achievement of the sector attaining carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Emissions experts have claimed the plan was insufficient to ensure Ireland delivers on its decarbonisation commitments, while Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan has underlined livestock numbers will have to be reduced in coming years.

The strategy commits to a 10 per cent cut in biogenic methane by 2030, but does not set a target on reducing livestock numbers.

It sets out four missions to secure:

– A climate-smart, environmentally sustainable agri-food sector;

– Viable and resilient primary producers, with enhanced wellbeing;

– Food that is safe, nutritious and appealing, trusted and valued at home and abroad;

– An innovative, competitive and resilient sector, driven by technology and talent.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was delighted the stakeholder committee led by agricultural economist Tom Arnold had agreed an ambitious strategy.

“Agriculture, food and the marine is our largest indigenous sector. It is ingrained in the fabric of Irish society and is one of the main drivers of our economy, especially in rural and coastal areas. The vision of being a world leader in sustainable food systems acknowledges the challenges the sector faces, not least environmentally, but crucially it also charts a pathway for the future.

Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar said he was aware of the economic and social contribution made by Irish food and drink companies, from artisan producers to multinationals. “I believe the vision of this strategy is the right one for the future.”

The industry-led strategy places environmental measures central to an agri-food sector plan for the first time, Mr Ryan said. Crucially, it states clearly it must adjust to meet a new climate action plan later this year, as well as other environmental measures being rolled out, he added.

Premium prices

It would facilitate “a new generation of farmers and foresters working the land in a sustainable way, with nature being restored, water quality improving, and premium prices being delivered for high-quality sustainable produce”.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue welcomed the focus on ensuring farmers, fishers and food producers “are competitive and productive, with enhanced wellbeing and economic sustainability”.

While its primary purpose was to provide a vision and policies for the agri-food sector over the coming decade, it has an important international dimension, Mr Arnold said.

He added: “Ireland is one of very few countries to have developed an agri-food strategy using a food systems approach. Through its experience of developing its own agri-food strategy and the political commitment to attain the highest standards of sustainability within its domestic policy, Ireland will be in a strong position to play a leadership role in the increasingly substantial debate at international level on sustainable food systems. I have every confidence it will do so.’

Climate campaigners, however, said the strategy was “shortsighted” and failed to fully address the sector’s high carbon footprint, biodiversity loss and water pollution.

Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan said the strategy was “not aligned with our international obligations on climate pollution, biodiversity and water quality”.

It was “an industry plan noted by Government”, but he welcomed its acknowledgement that final targets for reducing agricultural pollution will be set under the new climate law. “I look forward to agriculture doing its fair share as the Oireachtas sets Ireland’s first carbon budget in the autumn and the Government sets challenging five-year targets for every sector,” he said.