If I use the term as frequently as the Deputy attributes it to me, and I do not doubt that - I have no doubt his researchers do great work, and kildarestreet.com is such a reputable source of information - I would say to the farming industry outside to take a bow, because it very seldom gets the credit for the work that it puts in and its commitment to reaching the new standards and measures that will be required of it in delivering a more sustainable agricultural product.
My Department is committed to ensuring that the agriculture sector continues to grow sustainably so that Ireland can play its part in meeting the increasing global food demand while having regard to Ireland’s environmental obligations. It is independently and internationally recognised that Ireland’s grass-based systems are very resource-efficient food production systems. As our largest indigenous industry, it is hugely important that we ensure the continued development of our agrifood sector. Notwithstanding, there are background challenges to producing more sustainably while safeguarding our biodiversity, maintaining water quality and mitigating our emissions.
Food Wise 2025, which has superseded Food Harvest 2020, sets out a cohesive, strategic plan for the sustainable development of the agrifood sector over the next decade. Food Wise includes more than 400 specific recommendations, spread across the cross-cutting themes of sustainability, innovation, human capital, market development and competitiveness, as well as specific sectoral recommendations. Sustainability was the brief for one of the five core subgroups of the Food Wise 2025 committee. The projections in the report focus on the value of exports and production, rather than simply production increases and were developed giving full recognition that there is increasing pressure on global agricultural resources and the environment. Food Wise 2025 includes clear and comprehensive commitments to managing the projected growth in the sector in a sustainable way. There are 60 individual actions related to sustainability which aim to allow the sector to reach its growth potential, while protecting and improving the environment, by managing finite resources in the most efficient and effective manner.
In order to ensure that environmental considerations were at the heart of Food Wise 2025, an environmental analysis, which represented both a strategic environmental assessment and an appropriate assessment, was conducted in tandem with the development of the Food Wise 2025 strategy. This analysis was carried out by an independent team of consultants and involved stakeholder and public consultation throughout the process and my Department chaired a steering group with representatives from Teagasc, the EPA and Bord Bia to oversee the process.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The analysis included a particular focus on environmental parameters, biodiversity, climate change and water quality and sets out a range of mitigating actions.
There is a strong commitment in the report to measurement and monitoring the sustainability credentials of the sector. As part of the implementation phase of Food Wise, the environmental sustainability committee was established. My Department is working closely with relevant actors to ensure appropriate monitoring across all sectors of the agrifood industry on the environmental impacts of the strategy. This implementation process includes evaluation and assessment of the delivery of sustainability and the mitigation actions.
Meeting annual mitigation targets in the second half of the 2013 to 2020 compliance period under the 2009 EU Effort Sharing Decision, which does not take into account the limited cost-effective mitigation options available in the sector, will be one of the more significant challenges for the sector. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has projected that Ireland will fall short of its 2020 target.
The extent of the challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in line with our EU commitments, is understood by Government, as reflected in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015 and the national mitigation plan, which is currently being prepared.
Ireland has adopted a whole of Government approach to developing climate policy. Officials from my Department continue to work with other Departments and have extensively engaged with the Commission in order to ensure that EU climate and food policies to 2030 and beyond recognise the reality of these global challenges.