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Competing information on meat and dairy can make it hard to separate the facts from fiction. We’ve answered some of the most common questions about what consuming Irish meat and dairy means for your health, as well as for Ireland’s environmental and animal welfare standards.

FAQ : Healthy Diets

Is dairy good for me?

Absolutely. Foods like milk, yogurt and cheese provide calcium, protein, potassium, phosphorus and iodine, as well as vitamins B2, B5 and B12 that are all important for your health.

Should I eat less dairy?

The Department of Health recommends having three servings from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group each day as part of a healthy, balanced diet. On average, Irish adults consume just two portions from the dairy group each day, falling short of the recommended three servings.

Is red meat good for you?

Red meat can be part of a healthy balanced diet. Beef, lamb and pork provide large amounts of essential vitamins and minerals to help your immune systems to function. For example, beef is a rich source of zinc, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Crucially, it is also rich in protein.

Should I cut down on how much red meat I eat?

Nutritional experts and health authorities recommend that we consume all types of food in moderation, and this applies to red meat as well. Red meat contains important nutrients which help to reduce tiredness and fatigue, promote healthy skin and hair and help the immune system to function effectively. Meat plays a vital role as part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Should I cut down on dairy to prevent weight gain and heart problems?

Milk and dairy foods have been linked to a variety of potential benefits, including better bone health, lower blood pressure and weight control. Also, data from the Irish National Adult Nutrition Survey indicates that those with higher dairy intakes actually have lower levels of body fat.

Do you really need to consume dairy products to keep your bones healthy?

The Irish Osteoporosis Society and international organisations such as the US-based National Osteoporosis Foundation advocate the inclusion of dairy for good bone health.

Is there as much protein in non-dairy alternatives to cow’s milk?

No, there is far more protein in cow’s milk. For example, there is six times more protein in cow’s milk compared to almond, rice or coconut beverages.

Do nutritional authorities recommend switching to non-dairy milk alternatives?

Nutritional authorities recommend that people consume three portions of dairy products such as milk and yogurt every day. Other official bodies have gone even further: the Food Administration Authority in Denmark has advised that “plant-based drinks from soya, rice, oat and almond cannot be recommended as valid alternatives to cow’s milk.”

Do calcium supplements make up for not consuming milk?

While supplements do deliver calcium, they do not contain the range of other nutrients which are important for bone health, including protein and phosphorus.

How does beef compare to non-meat alternatives such as soya when it comes to nutrition?

Red meat compares very well to other options. For instance, you can get as much protein from 25g of lean beef as you would get from 210g of black beans.

Does eating red meat cause cancer?

No, eating red meat products such as beef, lamb or pork in moderation does not increase the risk of cancer. There is no proven, causal link between eating moderate quantities of red meat and developing cancer.

FAQ : Protecting the enviroment and caring for our animals

Why do Ireland’s agriculture emissions seem higher than in other EU countries?

The agri-food sector is Ireland’s largest indigenous sector. Unlike other countries we do not have a large manufacturing industry, meaning our emissions from agriculture look disproportionately high. However, Ireland is amongst the most carbon efficient producers of meat and dairy in the world. Ireland’s grass-based model of food production ensures that our dairy produce is the most carbon efficient in the EU and our beef is in the top five.

Is the growth of Ireland’s dairy sector a problem for Ireland’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change?

The Teagasc National Farm Survey 2017 Sustainability Report, published in 2019 demonstrates that agricultural emissions per kilo of product continue to fall on dairy, cattle and sheep farms. Teagasc have also said they are confident that farmers will be able to meet targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases in the future.

Is Irish agriculture resource-intensive?

Dairy and meat production is a low-inputs model of food production. Grass accounts for over 90% of total feed consumed in a standard 24 month suckler-to-beef system, and more than 95% of the average Irish dairy cow’s annual diet is grass.

Would it be better for the environment if we switched from farming animals to growing crops?

All parts of our farming sector contribute to society, including dairy, meat and tillage, and all sectors have an important role to play in guaranteeing food security and cutting down on carbon emissions. Permanent pasture land acts as a natural carbon sink, helping to absorb emissions.

Is the Irish agriculture sector falling behind on its climate commitments compared to other sectors?

As part Origin Green, more than 90% of Irish beef exports have their carbon footprints measured and 100% of Irish milk is entering into a carbon footprinting scheme. Almost 90% of Ireland’s Rural Development Programmes now include climate and environmental protection measures. These efforts have resulted in our farmers becoming some of the most carbon efficient in all of the EU, in both the dairy sector and in the beef sector.

Why doesn’t Ireland reduce the size of its meat and dairy sectors?

Ireland is a world leader in sustainable beef and dairy production, and is helping to meet demand for low-emission high-quality produce. If Ireland stops farming meat and dairy it will most likely lead to an increase in demand from less sustainable markets. For example, the carbon footprint of Brazilian beef is estimated to be four times higher than Irish beef.

How do Irish animal care standards in Ireland compare with other countries?

Irish beef and dairy cows – not to mention other livestock – are grass-fed instead of being raised intensively indoors as is the practice in many other countries. Irish beef and dairy cows are grazing outdoors for up to 300 days of the year.

How do Irish animal welfare protections compare with other countries?

The EU has the most rigorous animal welfare standards in the world and the Irish Animal Health & Welfare Act enforces strict animal protection regulations. In Ireland and across the EU for example, there is also a total ban on the use of hormones for milk stimulation or growth promotion in farm animals – a ban which is not enforced in other countries.

Do Irish farmers take animal welfare seriously?

Yes they do, becase they care about their animals. In addition, Ireland’s sustainability schemes for beef, lamb and dairy (SBLAS and SDAS) help to ensure that our farmers apply best practice animal welfare at all times. Uptake of these schemes has been incredibly positive. 90% of our beef exports are covered by SBLAS and over 90% of dairy farmers are part of SDAS.

How can I be sure that farmers are meeting animal welfare standards?

The sustainability schemes require that Irish farmers must follow a documented Animal Health Plan based on the needs of the farm and the standards which must be adhered to. For instance, under the SBLAS and SDAS schemes, farmers are audited every 18 months and are subject to spot checks. Every week, hundreds of farms are inspected to ensure that they are meeting the strict regulations.