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Green Credentials of Ireland’s Dairy Sector could be key to Addressing Climate Change Challenge

The impact of climate change represents a significant opportunity for Ireland’s Dairy Sector but also poses a threat, a special industry conference held at the Teagasc Ashtown conference centre, Dublin, heard today. The conference included details of a safefood sponsored research project which surveyed dairy industry stakeholders to determine their level of awareness of the potential impacts that Climate Change could create.  

Principal researcher on the project, Professor Thia Hennessy of University College Cork’s Department of Food Business said: “This is the first such survey of dairy industry stakeholders on the island and we found that stakeholders from right across the dairy supply chain demonstrated a high level of awareness of climate change as well as a commitment to collective action to avail of any opportunities climate change may bring”.

Research collaborator Trevor Donnellan of Teagasc, continued; “The study confirmed that Climate Change presents both an opportunity and a threat for the Irish dairy sector. The threats identified in the survey included, extreme weather events, the emergence of new diseases and pests. By contrast the development of unfavourable climate conditions in some of the world’s key milk producing countries could offer an advantage to the Irish dairy sector, since the Irish climate is likely to be less adversely affected. One of the major recommendations of this research was that more planning is required to consider how to deal with extreme weather events.”

Welcoming the research, Dr James McIntosh, safefood said: “Our work to improve public health on the island of Ireland is evolving to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers and the food environment. Climate Change has the potential to impact on almost every aspect of food production and supply on the island and it’s important for us to understand how the provision of safe food and the promotion of good food safety practices across the food chain will be affected, particularly in larger agri-food sectors such as the dairy industry.”

The conference heard that there was a general view that science and technology can play a major role in mitigating Climate Change, but that there are obstacles to getting technology from the lab to the farm.  Not all farmers were eager to adopt technological developments and these concerns needed to be addressed. Stakeholders felt that technologies being developed to address greenhouse gas emissions should be discussed with farmers in the developmental stage to establish their practicality.

Katrina Campbell of Queen’s University Belfast, who also collaborated on the research, continued; “Climate Change may also pose a threat for food safety as one of the most prevalent food safety hazards within the dairy industry is mycotoxins which emerge in animal feed. Warmer and wetter climates, as projected for Ireland under Climate Change, would contribute to a proliferation in fungal growth and thereby increase in mycotoxin contamination.”

“To counter the potential impact of Climate Change on food safety, new innovative technology and monitoring systems must be invested in to help ensure Climate Change consequences do not become a threat from the beginning point of the dairy food chain.  New testing methods to detect contaminants may need to be investigated in order to prevent transmission through the food chain and human consumption”, she added.