Knowledge for better food systems

Transition to an Irish vegan agricultural system

This report by James O’Donovan, chair of the Cork Environmental Forum, outlines the potential environmental, social, and economic benefits of a transition to a vegan agricultural system in Ireland.

According to the report, 97% of agricultural land in Ireland is currently used for producing meat or dairy (including growing cereals used as feed), and many livestock farmers receive the majority of their income from subsidies. 

The report argues that Ireland has a climate suitable for a “highly productive plant based agricultural system”, noting that the area of land cultivated for crops in Ireland has fallen by 75% since 1851, and that grains, legumes and vegetables have historically been grown on a large scale in Ireland. 

The report also argues that existing agricultural subsidies could be redirected towards plant-based food production and ecosystem services, allowing Ireland to reduce its total emissions by 53% without requiring any extra taxes.

The report makes several recommendations, including:

  • Pay farmers for ecosystems services including biodiversity restoration, carbon sequestration, flood reduction, water purification and pollination, while eliminating subsidies for meat and dairy production.
  • Pay farmers to convert 1.7 Mha of land to native broadleaf forests and a further 1.1 Mha to native grasslands, meadows, and bog and wetlands. 
  • Produce plant-based food on 38% of the currently used agricultural land (which, the report argues, would produce three times as many calories as today’s system).
  • Reduce pesticide use by converting to predominantly organic agriculture.
  • Use trade protection to allow Irish plant-based markets to become competitive.

Read the full report, Transition to an Irish Vegan Agricultural System, here. See also the Foodsource chapter What is a healthy sustainable eating pattern?

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Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering just over 10 million square kilometres or 6.8% of the global land area, but it is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of around 740 million people or about 11% of the world's population. Its climate is heavily affected by warm Atlantic currents that temper winters and summers on much of the continent. In the European Union, farmers represent only 4.7% of the working population, yet manage nearly half of its land area.

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