Climate Change Ireland: The potential impacts of climate change on food safety from an island of Ireland perspective

Date: 25 November, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-905767-47-2

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Introduction

climate change report coverPerhaps one of the most fundamental ways in which global climate change will impact human society is through disruption of the world’s food production systems. While the ecological and social impacts of a warming planet may be far reaching, the ability of human society to adapt to these changes will to a great extent depend on how assured the food supply will be. This continues to present a challenge for climate prediction scientists who must refine large scale predictions into progressively smaller regional scale predictions which can be integrated with truly localised conditions. This is not an easy task. This difficulty in predicting regionalised changes from continental or global climate models has consequences. People think, and governments act, primarily on the basis of localised, personal threats. If the changing weather outside is shown to adversely affect the security and safety of the food on their table, people will be persuaded of the importance of both local and international mitigation and adaptation strategies in the face of climate change.

The interface of climate change and food security (having “physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”, FAO) has understandably been the subject of much scrutiny. However, within this definition, the impacts upon food safety have received comparatively little attention. This is possibly due to the sheer complexity of the issue: the chemical, biochemical and microbiological safety of food is a vast field subject to myriad influences both natural and anthropogenic. Those influences may sometimes be global in their scope, but often will be highly localised, dependent upon changes in regional food production practices, legislation and microclimates.

The island of Ireland is a small geographical entity (population approximately 6.4million in 84,421km²), residing in a temperate oceanic climate off the north-western fringe of continental Europe. It is characterised by lush vegetation, a product of its mild but changeable climate, which avoids extremes in temperature, due primarily to the warming effect of the North Atlantic Conveyor. It is a highly developed region, yet its largest industry remains agriculture and therefore the effects of climate change on food production and food safety are of particular economic and public health relevance.

safefood commissioned the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast to undertake a literature based review on the potential impacts of climate change on food safety from an island of Ireland perspective. The review aimed to assess the potential effects of climate change on food safety and public health for the populations on the island of Ireland and to highlight those areas of the food chain where impacts are most likely and to recommend steps to ameliorate those impacts. This has been completed and provides the most comprehensive assessment yet of the climate-related difficulties we face relating to the production of safe food on this Island.