The State must work with all stakeholders to review Ireland’s current food policy in the context of the biodiversity crisis, the Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity Loss has said.
It is among a raft of recommendations the assembly issued following a meeting at the weekend. It said the review of food policy would be done “to balance between the affordability and quality of food”.
This review must take into consideration vulnerable sections of the population and ensure reasonable standards of living, and result in a plan to address these issues, the assembly said.
“In order to drastically reduce the use of pesticides in line with EU policy, the State should incentivise the domestic and commercial use of natural, cost-friendly alternatives,” it recommended.
“It should also regulate the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers, while maintaining food security. This should coincide with the improvement of schemes for the safe disposal of unused hazardous materials, as well as their containers.”
In relation to designated land, it said “as a matter of urgency” areas and species of high nature value, including but not limited to the national network of Natura 2000 sites and protected species, should be protected from further degradation through the implementation and enforcement of existing legislation and directives.
Management plans should also include restoration programmes, it said.
It also recommended that there should be active identification of good practice and the potential to replicate this good practice on a wider scale. It cited the Burren Programme, the Biodiversity Regeneration In a Dairying Environment (BRIDE) and the Sustainable Uplands Agri-environment Scheme (SUAS) as examples of good practice.
The assembly added that a scheme should be developed for the business sector, similar to the Farming for Nature initiative, in which businesses can demonstrate real and substantial biodiversity credentials.
On funding, it said that “sufficient funding and resources to meet the challenges of biodiversity loss must be allocated to all relevant bodies to sufficiently protect and enhance biodiversity and implement and enforce related national and EU laws, directives, and policies”. This must be guaranteed in the short and longer term, it said.
Local authorities must be accountable and report on their biodiversity activities
“Local authorities are uniquely placed to deliver biodiversity projects. Biodiversity funding and staff resources in local authorities must be significantly increased.
“Local authorities must be accountable and report on their biodiversity activities. Current resources must be enhanced and biodiversity given greater priority in the councils’ activities.
“The State should significantly increase commitments and long-term funding, with specific and targeted tax incentives and tax breaks to incentivise and support the regenerative economy, green technology and biodiversity activities,” it also said.
The new National Biodiversity Plan should have clear targets with ambitious and achievable timelines at national, regional and county level for halting biodiversity loss, restoring and enhancing biodiversity, the assembly added.
Among its other recommendations, it said a research strategy should be developed to support the national and EU biodiversity, soil and water strategies, involving all agencies, third-level institutes, and other organisations.
An integrated habitat, species and land-usage map for the island of Ireland should also be established to identify habitat loss and improvement, to support local community awareness and to inform policies and actions of State bodies and organisations, it said.