Close this search box.
Frequently Asked Questions




The NDC is a farmer-funded marketing organisation and therefore neither independent nor free of industry bias – isn’t it a case of ‘you would say that, wouldn’t you?

No. The NDC is, indeed, funded by farmers – but it is an independent voice and not the result of a simple ‘quid pro quo’ relationship. It’s our job to defend the dairy industry, to highlight the positives, to bring the farmer and the consumer closer together and to protect our social licence to produce – and we do it from a position of knowledge, backed by robust research and scientific fact.


We would say that, wouldn’t we? Yes – because we know what we’re saying is true.

Do you not think, generally speaking, that people know enough about dairy and the dairy industry already?

No, not really – and it’s not an issue that’s restricted to our country. All over the world, the dairy industry is facing the same problem – the consumer is disconnected from the producer (often never having visited a farm) and doesn’t see the hard work that goes in to delivering quality dairy produce and all the steps that are being taken to limit the industry’s environmental impact and keep it sustainable. 


If the consumer doesn’t know about it, then they will happily listen to the pressure groups and – before they’re aware of it happening – the dairy industry will be reduced in size and scope. This will mean that the growing demand for dairy products won’t be met, and dairy will begin to cost more.

Is dairy farming really central to Ireland’s heritage and part of the country’s national identity – those seem like big claims?

There’s been dairy farming in Ireland for 4.000 years – if that’s not heritage and identity, it’s difficult to say what is. On top of that, dairy farming accounts for one in every 40 Irish jobs (60,000 in total), and delivers €5bn to the Irish economy every year – so, yes, dairy is central to Ireland Inc.

You say that one in four people know a dairy farmer personally (which doesn’t seem very many) and that 75% of people want to buy Irish – how do you know?

We know these things because we’re interested in them and we make a point of asking the questions. Both of these statistics came from pieces of research that we did during July and August 2021. We’ve also been finding out what people think about the new advertising campaign and whether it’s had the desired effect of connecting the consumer and the farmer – and we think it has.

There’s a claim that dairy farmers’ futures are under threat – this is a bit extreme, isn’t it?

Not really. If the dairy industry cannot make its voice heard, if the actions it is taking on emissions and environmental impact are not understood, if there is no recognition of the difference between farming and burning fossil fuels, then the industry will be hit hard and farmers’ livelihoods will be affected.

The NDC’s farmer ambassadors are saying that it feels as if farming – and dairy farming in particular – is completely misunderstood and under-valued. What do they mean by that?

They mean exactly what they’re saying – if you read, or listen to, media coverage of the industry, you would think that the farming community is doing nothing at all to make the industry more sustainable. 


All you’d hear is that production is increasing, cows are responsible for a significant percentage of greenhouse gas emissions and that farmers have done little to play their part in combating climate change. It’s by no means as simple, or as black and white, as that.

You have talked about decisions being made by pressure groups and the disconnected – what did you mean by that?

As we know, there are organisations that campaign on behalf of biodiversity and the environment and they’ve been around for a long time. Now - with the Irish government’s climate action bill, data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the COP Summit in 2021 – they are attracting more attention. 


Partly because of this, the voice of the dairy industry – and the good news stories about the things that are being done to make Irish dairy farming more sustainable and to reduce its impact on the environment – is not always given the opportunity to make itself heard. 


And if it’s not heard – how can it affect the decisions being made in its behalf?

It’s being said that cows will have to be got rid of as a result of the measures outlined in the Climate Action Bill – is this true?

Well – there are a lot of people saying that a cull is the only way the goals of the Climate Action Bill – that’s a 22% cut in agricultural emissions by 2030 – can be achieved. 


No-one, of course, is saying by when, or by how much - which makes the whole thing even more difficult – and they’re certainly not taking into account that Ireland’s dairy herd is the same size as it was in the mid-1980s and is small, relative to other countries.


The fact of the matter is that Irish dairy is already the most carbon-efficient in Europe. People want more dairy and if we reduce our production here, then it will just go somewhere else that is less efficient, and that means more emissions globally.


That are lots of things that we are already doing – and can do more of – like herd management, and grass management and energy efficiencies, which will all impact on dairy’s environmental impact without reducing numbers of cows.

Cows do emit a lot of methane – a greenhouse gas that is much worse than CO2 – and it will need to be reduced if the country’s going to meet its emission targets. How’s the industry going to do that if it doesn’t reduce cow numbers?

There’s confusion and misinformation around methane - in Ireland and elsewhere - that needs to be addressed.


First, methane is in the atmosphere for tens of years, not hundreds and as it is produced by cows eating grass which has already absorbed C02 and will absorb more as it grows, methane can be seen as carbon neutral. 

There are two scientific calculations for the impact of emissions on global warming (GWP100 and GWP*) and under the second, if methane levels are stable, then it has no warming effect.


Second – and disregarding which GWP calculation is used altogether – preliminary Irish research (based on real measurements and not predictive modelling) shows that levels of methane may have been overestimated by as much as 15%. If this figure is robust, it will reduce dairy’s carbon footprint, it will reduce the proportion of Ireland’s GHG emissions that come from agriculture and it will impact on the total reductions the industry has to achieve.


In any case, methane needs to be treated differently to C02 – cows aren’t the same as cars. OF course every industry has to play its part in reducing emissions, however the dairy industry is already doing a lot – and will do a lot more – to reduce its impact. 


We just want to be given the chance to show that we can.

You say 75% of people believe that Irish dairy is the best in the world – how do you know and why is it?

We ask people, simple as that. Of course, as we all know, Irish people are fiercely proud of what our country stands for and what it produces, so it’s hardly a surprise. 


There must be some truth to it though – Ireland exports dairy to over 120 countries and it feeds some 45 million people each year. It’s worth €5bn a year to the Irish economy and much of that goes into the local economy. Dairy really is at the centre of Irish life – and it takes Irish life abroad.


Animal Welfare

Calves are separated from their mothers within 24 hours of being born – surely this is unnecessarily cruel and wholly unjustifiable?

In reality, the calves are separated from their mothers for their own good – they can be fed and cared for more easily and appropriately and they suffer less risk of disease and death and from that point of view the practice is perfectly justified. 


Most dairy farmers will tell you stories about their calves, about their personalities and about forming bonds that continue as the female calves become cows – it’s hard to see this as cruelty.

How many exactly are exported to Europe for veal production?

Around 12% of male dairy calves are exported to Europe, the biggest market being the Netherlands where there is a strong preference for Irish calves as they are more robust than those from the Netherlands itself or from Germany.

At what age are they exported?

European Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations governs the welfare of calves during transport in Ireland. 


It states that calves must be 10 days of age if undergoing journeys of more than 100km and calves less than 14 days of age on journeys exceeding eight hours must be accompanied by their mother.

Who is responsible for their welfare in transit?

Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations is the legislation that governs the welfare of calves during transport in Ireland and in the EU.  Only trained people are allowed, under the regulation, to load, unload and transport calves.

We are told that animal welfare can be judged on the basis of specific criteria – such as access to food and water and freedom from discomfort, pain or injury. Surely this cannot be the case for calves on a lorry travelling to the continent?

European Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations governs the welfare of calves during transport in Ireland and in the EU. 


There are stringent guidelines covering areas such as the calf’s fitness for transport, transportation times, space allocated, minimum ages and access to food and water. In addition, only trained people are allowed to transport calves.

What safeguards are in pace for the calves’ welfare on the journey?

European Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations governs the welfare of calves during transport in Ireland and in the EU. 


There are stringent guidelines covering areas such as the calf’s fitness for transport, transportation times (as short as possible) and minimum ages.

What happens to them when they reach their destination?

The calves move to farms where they continue to be reared according to the standards detailed in EC Regulation 1/22005.

Surely they could be reared in Ireland and some use found for them?

The provision to allow calves to move off farm up to 4 months of age without a TB test (as a consequence of COVID measures) has encouraged farm to farm sales of much healthier older calves. The industry has been lobbying to secure this provision long term.

Wouldn’t it be better to cull the unwanted calves on the farm shortly after birth rather than subjecting them to the cruelty of being transported?

The industry actively discourages on-farm euthanasia of healthy calves – it is prohibited in the ICOS (Irish Cooperative Organisation Society) charter. It is simply better to care for the animals (under EU Council regulations) and manage them as part of the food chain rather than seeing them go to waste.


Sustainability & Environment

You talk a lot about Irish dairy being sustainable – what, exactly, do you mean by ‘sustainable’?

True sustainability focuses on the economic and the social as well as the environmental. A sustainable industry is one that is capable of being ‘sustained’ – ie one that has a viable future. 


In the case of Irish dairy, it’s the future of the farmers and their families on the 18,000 Irish dairy farms, it’s the future of the 60,000 people employed in the Irish dairy industry and it’s the future of Irish dairy’s €5bn contribution to the Irish economy.

That’s all well and good – but if we don’t do something about climate change, then it will be too late. Agriculture accounts for 35% of Ireland’s emissions and the bulk of that is methane from cattle – how are you going to achieve the reductions you need to by 2030?

Yes, being sustainable also means being responsible to the environment. It’s a fact that Ireland’s grass-fed, family-farmed dairy industry is the most carbon efficient in Europe - since 2013 Ireland’s dairy carbon efficiency has improved by about 10%. 


We need to stop seeing climate change solely in Irish terms, though. Demand for dairy is growing and if dairy production moves from Ireland to other, less efficient producing countries, there’ll be a negative effect on global GHG emissions. This imply doesn’t make sense.


We all need to play our part when it comes to combating climate change and the Irish dairy industry is asking for the opportunity to demonstrate what it can do to improve its performance while protecting its future for the generations to come. Innovations in cattle breeding, in pasture management and in fertiliser use are all contributing to reductions in emissions and have the potential to create significant change.

Methane’s the problem – it’s generated by cattle and it’s the bulk of dairy’s emissions. How can you meet your emissions reduction targets without cutting the herd?

First, we should recognise that Ireland’s pasture-based dairy production system is fairly unique.

Cows being fed grass means less emissions associated with manufacture and supply of feedstock. Every extra day the herd is out grazing has an impact on Irish dairy’s carbon footprint.


Seeding white clover with the rye grass in the pasture returns nitrogen to the soil, significantly reducing the amount of chemical fertiliser required each year. It’s also been shown to increase the amount of milk produced, and to reduce the amount of methane emitted by the cow.


Breeding programmes produce – over time – cows that produce more milk meaning an increased amount of product from the same amount of animals, further reducing Irish dairy’s carbon footprint.


Irish research shows that the amount of methane estimated to have been produced by Irish agriculture could have been over-estimated by more than 15%. 


Together, these actions and initiatives show that it is wholly possible for the industry to reduce its emissions without culling the herd - and that those emissions may have been overstated in the first place. 


Certainly, despite commitments made in the Climate Action Bill (Amendments) 2021, no difference has been made between carbon dioxide and biogenic methane – a difference which would have a significant impact on how agriculture’s emissions are calculated and those emissions’ impact on the environment.

Does dairy farming contribute to the pollution of Irish rivers?

According to the EPA’s water quality report for 2020, of the1,836 river water bodies assessed in 2019 and 2020, 345 improved in quality and 230 declined, resulting in a net improvement in quality of 115 river water bodies. 


Water quality in Ireland as monitored by the EPA has shown consistent improvement over the past 15 years.


This not to say that agriculture, along with municipal wastewater discharges, are not causes of issues with water quality in Irish rivers. Agricultural contributors include discharges from silage, sediment and the runoff of various nutrients (e.g. phosphorus) during fertiliser spreading, pesticide application or irrigation. 


Various strategies are in place however to reduce the impact on Irish rivers from agricultural sources, under the EU Water Framework Directive - as an example, fertilisers can only be spread at certain times of the year when land is typically drier, meaning there is less chance of nutrients, sediment or effluent being transferred from farmland to rivers. 


The EPA is also convinced that full implementation of climate measures identified in the AgClimatise Roadmap and AgriFood 2030 strategy offer significant potential co-benefits in terms of improving water quality and protecting biodiversity.



Dairy produce is versatile, tasty and something that we’ve become accustomed to as part of our daily life – but isn’t it true to say that we don’t actually need dairy in our diet and cutting it out would be, environmentally, the right thing to do?

The Irish Department of Health’s Food Pyramid recommends three servings from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group each day as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Between the ages of 9-18 years, 5 servings per day are recommended due to the increased calcium requirements at this life stage. This is because milk is a rich source of calcium, protein, iodine, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B12. It also provides phosphorus and potassium.


It is, of course, perfectly possible to have a dairy-free diet, however the nutrients that dairy provides would have to be obtained from other sources – which may not be as easy or as convenient as dairy products and may (depending on production methods and point of origin) have a greater carbon footprint.

Dairy products are high in fat – how can they be part of balanced and nutritious diet?

Some dairy products – butter and cream specifically – are higher in fat and lower in calcium and a distinction is made between them and the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group. When it comes to butter and cream, the advice is to consume them sparingly as part of a balanced diet.


The Department of Health recommends three servings a day from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

There are plenty of dairy alternatives – shouldn’t we be making the switch?

Probably not, unless it’s for a compelling reason. Dairy alternatives are generally derived from plant-based ingredients such as soya, rice, almond, oat, coconut, hazelnut, hemp – or, more recently, potatoes – and they are not nutritionally equivalent to milk.

Dairy alternatives are often fortified with calcium and vitamin B12, while dairy milk is a natural source of calcium and a matrix of other micronutrients (including riboflavin, vitamin B12, iodine, potassium and phosphorus).

Whole milk is generally higher in calories and fat than the alternatives but semi-skimmed and skimmed milk are comparable. In addition, milk is naturally higher in protein than the plant-based alternatives at about 3.5 % and some alternatives have added sugar

Finally, plant-based alternatives are generally more expensive and may (depending on ingredients, production methods and point of origin) have a greater carbon footprint. 

Irish milk is a single natural product, and Irish dairy farms are the most emissions-efficient in Europe. 

Apparently Irish butter is yellow because the cows eat grass – how does that work, then?

Irish butter is made from milk that comes from cows that are grass-fed on family farms. Cows that feed on grass produce milk that is high in beta-carotene, which has the effect of making the butter yellower. 


Beta-carotene also has health benefits – several studies have associated a higher intake of foods rich in beta carotene to a reduced risk of several chronic diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.


The fact is that a grass-fed dairy farming system is a sustainable one, which produces less emissions than alternative methods. It’s sustainable both environmentally and economically, which is important, meaning that it is fit for the farming families of the future.


Equally importantly, it suits the needs of today’s consumer who is more aware of sustainability and environmental impact and wants to know where their food comes from and how it is produced so they can gauge the impact of their own choices.