EPA says dairy herd expansion is ‘unsustainable’

The director general of the Environmental Protection Agency said any further plans to expand the dairy herd are unsustainable, awaiting evidence and implementing effective greenhouse gas emissions solutions.

“Outstanding evidence and implementation of effective solutions to persistent and unsustainable emissions of air and water, and any other plans to intensify or expand the dairy herd is unsustainable,” said Laura Burke, speaking on RTÉ’s at One News.

She said that as part of the 2019 Climate Action Plan, there has been a commitment to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions but the current strategy is insufficient.

“The currently written strategy has less ambition than that. So this is not sustainable, and it won’t cut it,” she said.

“We need significant cuts beyond what has already been committed and not undoing what is already there,” she added.

She said that projections based on all existing policies and actions amount to a 24% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, while the policy calls for a 51% reduction.

The 24% figure is based on 70% of the renewables generated for our electricity system, 600,000 heat pumps in our homes and half a million homes installed retroactively.

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“Agricultural practices are clearly one of the main pressures for deteriorating water quality at the national level, and are responsible for a third of greenhouse gas emissions and more than 99% of ammonia emissions,” added Ms. Burke.

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She said that economic growth in the agri-food sectors in recent years is happening at the expense of the environment.

She said there was an overall decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in 2019, but they came back again in 2020.

Ms. Burke said the EPA does not want to pit the agriculture sector against the rest of society because all sectors need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

She said there are options like using different types of fertilizer or spreading clay more sustainably, but that needs to be moved beyond.

She said that policy-driven economic growth dominates the agriculture sector.

Ms Burke said there was a need to look at how to stimulate the types of behavior that support new types of activities in environmentally sustainable agriculture.

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