Eating less beef will reduce carbon footprint – environmental expert

People need to eat less beef if they want to reduce their carbon footprint, a environmental expert has said.

UCC environmental engineering professor Jerry Murphy emphasised the need for everyone to make changes if Ireland is to reach its climate change targets.

“If we want to decarbonise, and again this is something which is very difficult to say, we should eat less beef,” he said.

“I hope I don’t have to apologise in a week for saying that.”

“If we grew fish there is 10 times less carbon per calorie in fish [than beef],” he added.

He made the comments at an ESRI climate change conference in Dublin on Friday.

Professors and industry experts came together to discuss whether Ireland can meet its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions and renewable power targets.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar came under pressure from farmers earlier this year for saying he was trying to eat meat less as part of his own efforts to reduce his carbon emissions.

Members of the Irish Farmers’ Association protested over Leo Varadkar’s comments (Michelle Devane/PA)
Members of the Irish Farmers’ Association protested over Leo Varadkar’s comments (Michelle Devane/PA)

It prompted farmers to ask “where’s the beef, ya vegan” as they heckled him in Cork during a protest in early May calling for increased support for beef farmers.

Professor Murphy told those gathered at the conference that it was possible for farming to become more carbon neutral.

He cited an organic farm in Denmark as an example.

“There’s no fertiliser, there’s no weed control, they digest all of their feed stuffs and they’re certified as greenhouse gas negative in milk production,” he said.

He also predicted that spreading slurry on land would most likely cease in years to come as farming practices become more environmentally friendly.

Mr Murphy said Ireland has a lot of water quality problems associated with excess amount of slurry.

“The idea of spreading slurry raw on the land, I reckon, will cease. I spent about eight years working on urban waste water directive. We were told by Europe we had to treat waste water.

“I reckon Europe is going to tell us you can’t put slaughter waste into the land anymore, you can’t put slurry on the ground and pollute water courses.”

Climate Change Minister Richard Bruton said the farming sector would be challenged by having to reduce carbon emissions but he said there would also be “huge opportunity for smart farming”.

“There is a tendency to look on this as someone outside has put a burden on us that we have to adapt to,” he said.

“But the reality is the world has changed and if we want to be resilient in that world and competitive in that world we have to change ahead of it.”

Mr Bruton said broadband and connectivity was key to efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

“I absolutely believe that the future of regions, like the midlands, is around being able to do your work remotely, being able to adopt smart farming methods, being able to have remote working, being able to have access to health based on e-health as opposed to always physically turning up,” he said.

“[The] capacity for a region like midlands to attract multi-national investment is greatly enhanced if people have the confidence that they’ll have private secure lines for them to be able to deliver their workforce working remotely and servicing a centre.”

- Press Association

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