Fri, Nov 10, 2023
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Neasa raising the role of Teagasc in the publication of the 'Dublin Declaration of Scientists in the Societal Role of Meat'.
Teagasc, a state agency whose supposed objective is to provide “independent and scientifically excellent” research to the agriculture and food industry, helped pay for an event from which the ‘Dublin Declaration’ derived. A document which, according to an investigation by Greenpeace UK, is now being used by a cabal of lobbyists with close ties to the livestock industry to lobby against EU recommendations for reduced meat consumption in the bloc’s cancer strategy, its sustainability policies and its climate goals.
Neasa Hourigan TD: The Guardian newspaper, based on an investigation by Greenpeace UK, reported last week that leading European agribusiness groups using a manifesto called the Dublin Declaration have been lobbying senior EU officials against recommendations for reduced meat consumption in the bloc’s cancer strategy, its sustainability policies and its climate goals. The Dublin Declaration of scientists on the societal role of livestock was launched at Teagasc in October last year. It is a relatively short document that argues for the nutritional, environmental and social benefits of meat-eating, but the document, which presents itself as a declaration of scientists, was in fact written by a cabal of lobbyists with close ties to the livestock industry.
The declaration’s launch in Dublin was hosted, as I said, by Teagasc. The agency receives 75% of its funding from the Irish Government and the EU, which helped pay for the event. They contributed €39,000 of the event’s €45,000 cost, mainly in the form of travel, accommodation and support for the speakers who attended. To get a sense of the scale of the involvement of the livestock industry in this event and how far from a scientifically objective document the declaration is, the networking event at the conference was sponsored by two industry groups, namely the American Meat Science Association and the North American Meat Institute. The Dublin Declaration was the centrepiece of an addition of the peer-reviewed journal Animal Frontiers, and in November 2022 the EU’s leading agrifood groups wrote to the EU Commissioner for Agriculture using the Dublin Declaration to argue against a plan to end public funding for the promotion of red and processed meats. In January 2023 a delegation for the declaration travelled to Warsaw to present its findings at an event organised by the Polish Beef Association and attended by the Commissioner.
The lead author of the declaration is Mr. Peer Ederer. He is a former McKinsey consultant, who works closely with agribusiness and whose clients include McDonalds and the US meat producer Smithfield. He has described veganism as “an eating disorder requiring psychological treatment”. Authors of the declaration include Collette Kaster, chief executive of the American Meat Science Association, which is funded by major meat producers such as Cargill Meat Solutions, Smithfield and Tyson Foods. The second lead author, Frédéric Leroy, is a food science academic in Brussels but also president of the Belgian Association of Meat Science and Technology. He is a regular presence on the meat industry conference circuit and the author of ALEPH2020, an academic-led initiative in support of meat production. Last is Dr. Rod Polkinghorne, who is a self-described “pioneer of the Australian feedlot industry” and who works with meat industry actors.
A State agency in Ireland has been made an utter fool of by industry lobbyists intent on their selfish pursuit of ever-increasing global climate emissions in the name of profit. Teagasc is lending its funding and credibility to a campaign that is undermining efforts to tackle climate change and take science seriously within the EU. Ireland has the second-highest emissions per capita in Europe, and that is driven in large part by our export-oriented agriculture model. It is not what we are eating ourselves but what we export, based in beef and dairy products. Most lobbyists pay the State for access and consideration but Ireland must be in a unique position of paying those same lobbyists €39,000 for the privilege of being manipulated and hoodwinked by an unethical and anti-science industry operative. Teagasc was founded as a research and industry development body. If we cannot rely on the data and scientific objectivity of Teagasc, where does that leave us?
Minister of State, Sean Fleming: On behalf of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, I thank the Deputy for her contribution on Teagasc’s role in the Dublin Declaration of scientists on the societal role of livestock. Teagasc was established under the Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Act 1988, as the national agency with responsibility for the provision of research, training and advisory services to the agriculture and food industry. Teagasc seeks to be professional, independent and scientifically excellent in carrying out its functions. It works in partnership with other organisations and stakeholders across the agrifood sector and actively collaborates with research organisations across the world from individual projects and publications right up to formal alliances and partnerships. The organisation’s overarching strategic goal is: “To make sustainability front and centre of all Teagasc activities” and “To provide scientific leadership and support to Irish farmers and food companies in achieving a sustainable food system.”
Teagasc has an important role to play in supporting the Government’s strategy for the development of the agriculture and food industries within the framework of Government and EU policies and priorities. It provides research and training advice in supporting viable and resilient primary producers to enhance the production of safe and nutritious food from animals with a high animal welfare status and from soils with a high health status. Equally, I emphasise that Teagasc research programmes are concerned with addressing the broad environmental sustainability challenges in climate change, water quality, ammonia emissions and biodiversity. Teagasc is marshalling its resources to support the agricultural industry to respond to the climate challenge. Its climate action strategy for 2022 to 2030, Supporting Farmers for Climate Action, sets out an ambitious roadmap to 2030 that will maximise farmer uptake of the existing marginal abatement cost curve technologies through Teagasc’s advisory and education activities.
Teagasc routinely hosts international scientific conferences to bring together the latest science available on a particular topic and facilitate discussions around the science. The outputs from these conferences are published for the public to read and evaluate. Last October 12 months, Teagasc hosted an international summit on the societal role of meat at the Teagasc food research centre in Ashtown. It brought together world-leading experts on the role of livestock farming and meat in: diet and health; society; economics and culture; and a sustainable environment. The agenda included presentations by experts from leading research institutions and universities from across the globe.
Teagasc has advised that it did not host the Dublin Declaration of Scientists on the Societal Role of Livestock. Conclusions from the summit and evidence reviewed in the summit featured in a peer-reviewed edition of the scientific journal Animal Frontiers in early 2023. Summit attendees with academic and scientific credentials were invited to endorse the evidence base by signing the Dublin Declaration. No companies or organisations could sign the declaration and individuals who signed had to be scientists working in the relevant area.
Teagasc research and knowledge transfer services engage in several joint programmes with various food companies. Industry involvement is clearly visible to all parties and the outputs of these initiatives are communicated in the public domain. Teagasc has contracts in place to ensure that third parties will not have any influence over the publication of outputs. For example, the Teagasc signpost programme demonstrating best practice in reducing greenhouse gas, GHG, emissions on their farms is supported by more than 60 companies and organisations, all of which are committed to reducing GHG emissions from the agricultural sector.
Neasa Hourigan TD: It seems from that statement that Teagasc is disavowing the Dublin Declaration, which is interesting. Nobody, certainly not me, has suggested that the people involved in the declaration were not scientists, only that they are scientists who are fatally compromised. The conflicts of interest that I have read into the record in my initial statement are from Teagasc’s briefing document, which was accessed by Greenpeace through a freedom of information request. It seems obvious to me, and certainly to Greenpeace and The Guardian, that Teagasc is well aware that there is a conflict of interest here.
I would like to quote what Mr. Ederer, the chief author of the declaration said because while Teagasc has found itself compromised, it has also managed to involve a Minister of State in being compromised. He wrote: “The Dublin summit and the Dublin Declaration was the first piece of utilisable science they have received in all their four years of commission work … We need high ranking politicians at these launch events. What started the coverage in Ireland is not the brilliance of our science but the fact that we had a minister and a commissioner there.”
I do not know what that means but as a legislator and as somebody who is proud to be a public representative in Ireland and who is proud of our belief in science, trust and data, we should find that out. We need to hold Teagasc to account for involving our Minister of State in that.
Minister of State, Sean Fleming: I reiterate that Teagasc has advised that it did not host the Dublin Declaration of scientists on the societal role of livestock. The conclusions of the summit and evidence reviewed in the summit featured in a peer-reviewed edition of the scientific journal Animal Frontiers in early 2023. Summit attendees with academic and scientific credentials were invited to endorse the evidence. As I said, no companies were involved in that. It is up to those people who wanted to put their name to it to do so after the summit but that process of putting the declaration together and the hosting of that in Animal Frontiers was not done by Teagasc.
I agree completely that Teagasc held the international summit from which those conclusions emerged following the summit and it was attended, as the Deputy said, by a Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Heydon. The Dublin Declaration deals with issues and challenges for: livestock and human health; livestock and the environment; livestock and socioeconomics; and the outlook for livestock. As the Deputy indicated earlier, Teagasc hosted the function, the cost of which was approximately €40,000. The declaration emerged subsequent to the summit; it was not overseen by Teagasc at the event. I take on board all of the points the Deputy has made and Teagasc has assured me that as a State agency it has no conflict of interest when it comes to these matters. That is a matter I am sure different people will have different views on but that is its stated position.