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Curtailing beef production wrong move when global demand rising, says Meat Industry Ireland

‘Irish beef, lamb, pork and poultry products contain many essential vitamins and minerals that are critical for human nutrition’

Reducing Irish beef production is not a sound policy at a time of increasing global demand for meat, according to Meat Industry Ireland director Dale Crammond. Meat Industry Ireland (MII) is the Ibec sector association which represents the primary beef, pork and lamb processing facilities located in the Republic of Ireland.

Indeed cutting production in Ireland could actually result in an overall increase in global emissions due to the superior sustainability credentials of the Irish product. “Our farmers produce beef in a way that minimises its impact on the environment, with grass accounting for most of the animal’s diet,” says Crammond. “The grass is often produced on land that would not support other agricultural enterprises. Our beef has a carbon footprint of less than 20kg CO2 equivalent per kg of beef, while beef from Brazil and other parts of the world could be as high as 80kg CO2 per kg.”

The Irish industry is committed to reducing those comparatively low emissions levels. “Our Beef Sector Sustainability Report was published in February with the objective of clearly demonstrating what the industry has done to date in the sustainability sphere, and, importantly, what it plans to do in the future,” says Crammond.

“Since 2015 Meat Industry Ireland members have committed €150 million to a range of sustainability measures. These include the Teagasc Signpost Farm programme which helps farmers adopt new climate-friendly practices and initiatives around animal health as healthy animal are generally more emissions efficient. There are also several biodiversity initiatives that have been directly funded by members.”


Specifically on reducing emissions, the industry is focused on finishing animals earlier by using better genetics and on-farm management practices. “This has the potential to abate as much as 0.82MT CO2 equivalent by the end of the decade,” Crammond claims. “The industry is currently looking at how we could financially incentive farmers to finish their cattle earlier by way of sustainability bonuses.

“The industry is also committed to supporting the National Genotyping Programme. This programme has science and innovation at its heart, and it will allow the agri-food sector to breed more methane-efficient animals, thus reducing overall emissions. There are also a number of feed additives that are becoming commercially available that can reduce methane emissions from animals.”

Notwithstanding these initiatives, Crammond questions the fairness of the metrics used to judge the sustainability of the industry. “The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] estimates that agriculture is responsible for 38 per cent of national greenhouses emission, but there are issues with the accounting methodology,” he says. “As someone with a[n] MSc in Environmental Sciences, and having worked on these issues over many years, I am very familiar with the science.

“Methane accounts for 70 per cent of agricultural emissions and this methane gets converted into carbon dioxide equivalents using a Global Warming Potential (GWP) measure of 100 to enable comparisons with other sectors of the economy such as transport and energy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year stated that this GWP100 metric has several flaws and could in fact overstate the warming impact of stable methane by a factor of three or four times. Methane emissions from beef production in Ireland are lower today than they have been at any stage over the last 20 years, and this metric overstates beef production’s warming impact.”

Nutritional value

He calls for a more balanced debate on the issue. “We must remember that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are responsible for most of the global warming over the last 30 years. We must also remember that we export 93 per cent of our beef production to 75 countries all over the world, so it is on-farm practice changes that will ultimately reduce agricultural greenhouse emissions, not consumer choices in Ireland.”

He concludes by pointing to the nutritional value of Irish meat. “Irish beef, lamb, pork and poultry products contain many essential vitamins and minerals that are critical for human nutrition. These include vitamin D, vitamin B12, manganese, iron, zinc, selenium, and other essential amino acids, some of which are only found in animal sourced foods. Several plant-based alternatives, trying to mimic meat, have come to the marketplace in recent years but have been flatly rejected by consumers across the world due to their ultra-processed nature and poor eating quality.

“Consumers want to eat safe, nutritious, and sustainably produced animal products, and the Irish agri-food sector does this as well as any country in the world. So, when shopping in the meat aisles of your local supermarket or butcher over the coming days, you can be assured that those meat products have been produced to the highest standards possible and are there to be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.”