Carbon Food Print; Agriculture, Emissions and Sustainable Supply
Eating into our environment
You might think that cooking your steak medium rare or preparing a romantic coq au vin is one of the most difficult parts of cooking. However, have you ever thought about the multitude of processes involved in getting that food from farm to fork? There are farmers, industry partners, suppliers, retailers, waste managers, transportation and you the consumers, all of whom have different environmental impacts.
The food industry is actively involved in trying to improve their environmental impact, either for cultural, social or financial reasons. Climate change will have a major affect on all people involved. For instance, farmers will have to deal with drastically changing weather conditions and the emergence of new pests and diseases, all of which will affect the yield and quality of their product.
Irish environmental impact
Greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland accounted for 1.4% of the total produced by the EU in 2014, a reduction of 6.3% in 2010 and 14.9% in 2000. So, it would seem we are heading in the right path. However, in Ireland agriculture accounts for 33% of their overall emissions, much higher than other EU states where the average is 10%. This both illustrates the importance of the agriculture industry in Ireland and a significant area where novel ideas will need to be developed to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases this industry creates. So, what are the plans for Ireland?
Planning for an empty plate
The rural development programme (RDP) in Ireland has allowed a budget of €1,531m over a seven year programme to improve the environmental impact of the agriculture sector. The Green, Low-Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) aims to preserve the traditional hay meadows and low input pastures and retain the carbon stocks in soil through margins and habitat preservation. They are introducing, or continuing, to apply agricultural production methods compatible with the protection of the environment, water quality, the landscape, endangered species and climate change mitigation. The overall aim of GLAS is to attract 50,000 farmers into their new scheme and in its first year almost 30,000 applied. GLAS has five priority environmental assets and actions (PEAs): farmland habitat, farmland birds, commonages, high status water area and rare breeds. Farmers who do not have PEAs but whose lands include a vulnerable water area, may apply to the scheme under Tier 2. To qualify for Tier 2 access one of the following actions are chosen and planned for; low emission slurry spreading, minimum tillage, green cover establishment from sown crop, or wild bird cover.
However, the GLAS is not the only initiative working to improve the environmental impact of the agriculture industry. Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority in Ireland, also plan to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. Their plan is reasonably simple; stabilise greenhouse gas emission, particularly methane, by enhanced energy efficiency; further reduce emissions, particularly nitrous oxide; offset greenhouse gas emissions with carbon sequestration from afforestation and agricultural land management; and displace fossil fuel emissions with wood fuel and biogas.
Protecting your dinner
With both institutions working towards a common goal, albeit independently, it does seem promising that the impact agriculture is having on the environment will decrease. Wildlife habitats will be protected, greenhouse gas emissions reduced and a more stable sustainable agriculture industry will grow. All in all, you can be sure that your romantic coq au vin will continue to impress for years to come.