Wait and See- (food production)

Week 6 with Con Traas showed us the massive amounts of energy inputs that are required to produce the food that we expect to find in the supermarket when doing our shopping. CO2 is emitted at every stage;from the fuel used in  farm machinery, to agrichemical and fertiliser production, machinery construction, construction of farm buildings and techniques such as irrigation (although not widely practised in Ireland). This is not something I would have thought about before, but I suppose it wasn’t exactly surprising either. It is not that long ago that the majority of  Irish people practiced subsistence farming,whereby the vast majority of their waking lives was spent producing the food that kept them alive. What little income people had was also spent on the bare essentials. Today we have the luxury of  spending so little of our income on food, and not spending all our time living from hand to mouth. Modern life and modern technologies that take advantage of cheap energy, have afforded us this luxury but it comes at a price. This price being, the emission of so much carbon that scientifically, is changing the characteristics of our planet, and not for the better.

So what do we do ? When we talk about energy production, there are the obvious solutions of harnessing wind and water energy to produce electricity, but what about food production. Food production is more difficult in that it revolves around cheap fuel. Farm machinery and fertilisers are essential and therefore so are the fuels that drive them. So what,(apart from the obvious and come up with a cheap, green and efficient fuel that can be used in all agricultural processes) should Ireland do to get around this problem?  Well in my opinion Ireland should do nothing. Food production and energy production are different things and in my opinion Ireland should, at this stage, concentrate on making the latter environmentally friendly and cheap. My reasoning behind this is not that I am doing an energy course and simply want a job at the end of it. No my reason is simple. Ireland needs an example, we cannot be trusted to reform food production techniques ourselves. 

Recent months have proven that we are incompetent when it comes to this sector, and the incompetency does not lie with the  farmers who implement farming practices nor with those who aspire to be the ones to produce alternative fuels. Our major drawback comes in the form of our politicians. You may wonder what politicians have got to do with food production in Ireland but as it turns out, the answer is too much. You see, Ireland is a member of the E.U. and as such must conform to E.U. guidelines, but who negotiates and makes deals with the E.U., yes our politicians. To reform food production would require legislation and negotiation of some kind involving talks about quotas etc.  Before the dissolution of the last Dáil there was a party ( based on good intentions, but ultimately  lacking in the required knowledge) called the Green Party. They gave a vivid example of why Ireland cannot reform food production techniques on a large-scale. They proposed a Climate Change Bill that had the potential to severely damage the agri-food sector in Ireland. It would have required a 40% reduction of cattle herd to meet the reductions in carbon emissions, a carbon reduction greater than that imposed on Ireland by the E.U. and one that would have damaged one of the few sectors that is targeted for bringing Ireland back to economic growth. On the bright side it would have made the party look very good in Europe. Thankfully it is Ireland that matters and we got rid of the Green’s before they could enflict long-lasting damage. I suppose one thing we could do with regards to food production in the future is try to ensure that whoever is responsible for the sector in the Dáil has some prior knowledge in the area and perhaps some understanding of a misguided deal.

So lets maintain the status quo until other countries come up with viable alternatives to producing food in a way that doesn’t damage the earth, and then we can copy their methods. If we jump in to the deep end before we can swim we may drown so lets keep our over enthusiastic politicians on a leash. Anyway international studies show that food production in Ireland on our temperate grassland systems have a much lower carbon-footprint than food production from more intensive systems in other countries. If you don’t like this solution you could always head off to the inner regions of  China and find a nice paddy field to spend the rest of your days growing rice.

Links :

 http://www.fdii.ie/Sectors/FDII/FDII.nsf/vPages/News_and_Events~Press_releases_archive~food-sector-sets-out-recommendations-for-next-government/$file/FDII%20Policy%20Recommendations%202011.pdf

http://www.teagasc.ie/news/2010/201006-22.asp

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