New agri-food policy must shift away from intensive practices


This World Food Day, the Environmental Pillar and the Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) are demanding that an immediate shift away from intensive agricultural practices take place in the State’s new agri-food policy. 

Both organisations have expressed serious concerns that the State is rushing the development of Ireland’s new 2030 Agri-Food Strategy, which will determine the future direction of Irish agriculture.

The groups have warned that the strategy’s current trajectory and lack of public participation will result in continued support of large-scale intensive farming – failing to adequately protect the environment or support smaller-scale farmers.

The problems with intensive agriculture

World Food Day is an international day of recognition of the need to grow, nourish, and sustain together, yet to date, intensive agriculture on our own soil has failed to adhere to these principles. 

Ireland has failed year after year to reform our environmentally damaging agricultural policy and practice. As a result, almost half of our rivers, lakes, and estuaries are in an unhealthy state; too many of our semi-natural grassland, upland, and aquatic habitats are lost or in bad status; and we’re seeing further declines in the species that live in these habitats. [1] 

All the while, our emissions from agriculture continue to rise in the face of a mounting climate crisis, and intensive agriculture carries on having a negative impact on rural livelihoods. [2]  

Only a minority of farms in Ireland are viable, with most cattle and sheep farms struggling and inadequately recognised for the ecosystem services they can and do provide. Average family farm income is now less than €10,000 for cattle rearing, according to the latest Teagasc National Farm Survey, and less than 5% of farmers are under 35. [3]

It is abundantly clear we need a new model, one that veers away from the detrimental path of previous strategies, such as Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025. 

Without a drastic move towards policy that both works with and protects nature and better supports small scale farmers, we are fast tracking the collapse of nature, food insecurity, and the loss of farming livelihoods.

Karen Ciesielski, co-ordinator of the Environmental Pillar, said: 

“Momentum is building across the EU for a food system that protects people, climate, and biodiversity, yet Ireland continues to lag behind. 

We will continue to fall well short of our climate and biodiversity commitments if we keep careening down paths of destructive agri-food policies.

This is the key moment to create a system that protects livelihoods, works within ecological boundaries, and guarantees food security. All of these elements must be incorporated into the Agri-Food Strategy 2030, and we need a fair, considered process to get us there.” 

Oliver Moore, a Cultivate and Environmental Pillar spokesperson said:

“The Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies clearly set a more resilient direction for farming in Europe. Real efforts must be made for biodiversity, for reducing fertiliser and pesticide use, for increasing organic farming, for native species agroforestry and a host of other targets. 

Our agri-food planning must take these and other related strategies into account in a genuine and significant way –  we cannot just keep growing the agri-industry while so many social and environmental indicators are going in the wrong direction. 

We’ve seen some tiny, tentative progress in the budget this week, but we need to adjust our planning towards 2030 to really align with the European Green Deal.”

 Sinead O’Brien, Coordinator of the Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) said: 

“Agriculture is by far the greatest pressure on Ireland’s water environment – especially our rivers. Almost half of our rivers are unhealthy and declines continue each year. Numerous EPA reports have identified agriculture as a key cause of water quality deterioration, yet Irish agricultural policy has continuously failed to heed these warnings. 

The next agri-food strategy offers an opportunity to get the balance right – to ensure an environmentally sustainable agricultural policy that protects and restores our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. There are many farmers in this country working hard to farm in a water-friendly way, those methods need to be rewarded.”

Theresa O’Donohoe, Environmental Pillar and Feasta spokesperson, said:  

“Public participation is vital for the 2030 Agri-Food Strategy, and we need to guarantee it happens at every stage of this process. The Aarhus convention protects the public’s right to information and participation in decisions affecting their environment. Compliance with the Aarhus convention is extremely lacking in this process.

Food production affects each and every one of us. It affects our climate, our health, and our biodiversity. With such far-reaching ramifications, communities need to be aware of how these decisions are made. 

At the moment, these crucial decisions are made behind closed doors. It’s time to shine a light on the process and ensure everyone has a say in how our food is produced.” 



[1] More than half of our rivers, lakes and estuaries are in an unhealthy state (47%, 50% and 62% respectively) and river water pollution is on the rise. Additionally, the number of pristine rivers has dropped from over 500 in the late 80s to a mere 20 today. according to the EPA:; further information from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) on the impact of agriculture on biodiversity can found at 

[2] National greenhouse gas emissions statistics are available from the EPA at 

[3] Teagasc National Farm Survey 2019: