Monaghan Mushrooms has been awarded Bord Bia’s sustainability mark ‘Origin Green’ but questions have been raised by some environmental groups into the use of peat in the mushroom industry. Measures taken by the company such as increased use of rainwater, green electricity and energy efficient lorries have been widely welcomed. However two groups, An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment have been strong in their criticism of Monaghan Mushrooms and also of Teagasc and Bord Bia. Comments on social media from the environmental groups included one from An Taisce saying; “Unbelievable: How is a heavily using peat business green?”.
Earlier this year An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment set out a challenge to the Irish mushroom industry. They jointly wrote to Monaghan Mushrooms (Europe’s largest producer of mushrooms), CMP Mushrooms (a producer organisation representing 90% of Irish mushroom production and growers) and the IFA’s Horticulture and Mushroom Committees to challenge what they claim is the industry’s “extensive and unsustainable use of Irish peat”.
The environmental groups refer to an EPA study which says that neither past nor current management of peatlands in Ireland has been “sustainable” and that this has serious consequences in terms of climate change, biodiversity loss and water quality. An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment, in their letter, ask Monaghan Mushrooms, CMP Mushrooms and the IFA’s Horticulture and Mushroom Committees to reveal the mushroom industry’s plans for:
- Reducing its reliance on peat in light of the serious negative environmental consequences of peat use, including climate change; and
- Ensuring that any peat the industry uses is sourced from companies which have planning permission and all relevant licences for their operations, and whose extractive activities have been subject to environmental impact assessment and appropriate assessment in accordance with EU and Irish law.
Environmentalist Tony Lowes says; “Industrial extraction from Ireland’s bogs remains the biggest unregulated land use in Ireland, if not in Europe. He claims; “The mushroom industry is one of the biggest drivers of literally thousands of hectares of devastation that is increasing each year without licensing or planning permission.
In 2013 Teagasc said; “Currently, Irish mushroom growers are not under immediate pressure to find alternatives to peat as a casing ingredient. However, the Irish mushroom industry is a major supplier to supermarket chains in Great Britain, where peat conservation and peat replacement are the subject of considerable debate and legislation. Given the importance of the British market for Irish mushrooms, alternative materials for use as a peat replacement or as an ingredient in a peat based casing may be required in the future.” The environmental groups say that Teagasc should now be recommending replacing peat as a casing material. Their approach is “unacceptable and ethically unjustifiable” according to An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment.
Meantime UK food blogger Annie Levy in her ‘Counter Kitchen Culture’ blog has recently written a post entitled ‘Mushrooms Grown with Peat: A Climate Issue’. In it she is critical of the use of peat in mushroom production in Ireland and calls on all mushroom producers to use peat free methods.
Minister Heather Humphreys attended the ceremony in Monaghan Mushrooms to award the Origin Green mark. Later this month she will be attending the ‘Wise Use of Wetlands’ conference in Ballybay Wetlands Centre. Will Minister Humphreys and the other speakers at this conference see the current way that peat is being used in the mushroom industry as ‘wise use of wetlands’? Keeping our peatlands intact is hugely important for our biodiversity as many species are experiencing massive decline. Peatlands are also of international importance as carbon sinks. If we keep destroying carbon sinks we are hastening climate change and the destruction of the planet. This week we hear that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere has hit the 400 ppm (parts per million) level. It should be at 350ppm if we are to keep the planet safe for our children and grandchildren. (See http://www.350.org.) Perhaps it’s time that Bord Bia took another look at the criteria for awarding the Origin Green mark before it it’s too late. Being accused of ‘greenwashing’ might be one of the milder consequences they will face.