Cross industry collaboration is key to achieving a more sustainable future for Irish food, drink and horticulture producers.

The Irish Government has set out an ambitious Climate Action plan to more than halve Ireland’s carbon emissions over the course of the decade, achieve “carbon neutrality” by no later than 2050 and adopt five-yearly sector specific carbon budgets.

This will be challenging, and has far reaching consequences on many areas of Irish life including farming and the food and drink manufacturing sector. Although the exact detail and impact of the carbon budgets is yet to be passed by Irish Government, it is clear that this move will place greater pressure than ever on improving the environmental performance of the Irish food and farming industry. Speaking at a recent event, the Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue said ‘our efforts will be demonstrable not only through the actions we take, but through what  we deliver in terms of reduced emissions and improved water quality and bio-diversity.’ 

However, as daunting a challenge as this may be, it is not a new challenge for the agri-food sector who have been actively monitoring and measuring sustainability improvements across the entire supply chain for almost a decade under the auspices of Ireland’s Origin Green programme.

Launched in 2012, and led by Bord Bia (The Irish Food Board), Origin Green remains the world’s only national food and drink sustainability programme, and has been part of a wider coalition of the willing across the Irish State actively working to drive positive and lasting change.

It is a voluntary programme open to Irish farmers, producers, manufacturers, retailers and foodservice companies, and is independently monitored and verified at every stage. The benefits of Origin Green include more environmentally aware farms and farmers, more sustainable food and drink production and an important focus on community.

Currently, Origin Green collaborates with circa 55,000 farms and over 300 leading Irish food and drink companies representing circa 90% of Ireland’s total food and drink exports. At farm level, it supports farmers and producers by educating them on sustainability issues and providing them with a framework to improve their sustainability performance. This is done through membership of Bord Bia’s Sustainable Assurance schemes and audits. Every audited farm receives the results in a bespoke Farmer Feedback Report, which allows them to make informed decisions on improving the sustainability of their farms, while also improving their efficiency and viability. The report includes a summary of general farm performance, carbon footprint, greenhouse gases, nutrient management, grassland management and farm health and safety. Close to 300,000 farm carbon footprints have been calculated to date.

Meanwhile, at manufacturing level, Origin Green enables Irish food and drink companies to develop a comprehensive multi-annual sustainability plan. This plan encompasses environmental, social and economic sustainability, helping them to reduce environmental impacts, achieve efficiencies in the daily running of their business and ensure their business has a positive social impact in their community.

The commitment of Irish farmers and food producers is paying dividends. A recent Origin Green Progress Update report highlighted reductions in CO2 per unit of beef, and per unit of milk. A subset of 400 dairy farmers decreased their average carbon footprint by 18%over three consecutive audits. Manufacturing members of the programme have set a total of 2,779 sustainability targets and established 13,600 sustainability initiatives since the programme launched nine years ago. From Bord Bia’s perspective, these results are proof of the real change we can achieve through industry collaboration and partnership.

Notwithstanding this progress, we will all need to do more. There are significant challenges ahead and currently unfolding in relation to climate change, and the commitments we must all make to address this global crisis. We acknowledge and accept that it’s crucial for the Origin Green programme, and Ireland’s food and farming industry, to accelerate progress towards sustainable food production and continue challenging ourselves to achieve meaningful and significant targets. It won’t be easy, but we are willing and ready to play our part.

Join Deirdre Ryan, Director for Origin Green at Bord Bia at the 2021 Sustainable Retail Summit for a Special Session on What Consumers Expect in a More Sustainable Future on Thursday the 14th of October, 11.30 am – 12.00pm

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