Belching cows may cost country millions

Ireland’s belching cows threaten to cost the country millions of euro in fines unless the Government finds other ways of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

Ireland has come up with a plan that will take other issues into account, including that Ireland’s beef is more environmentally friendly than others and that the pasture on which they feed locks in vast amounts of carbon gases.

Simon Coveney, the agriculture minister, put forward the proposals to his fellow ministers in Brussels and said he was very pleased with their positive response.

The plan has already won over the support of 15 other countries including Germany — but so far France is holding off. The European Commission is also being won over slowly to the idea that a new formula needs to be found for Ireland, where 30% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the national herd.

For the rest of the EU, the figure is closer to 10%, but globally the amount of harmful methane produced by cattle and sheep is closer to Ireland’s.

Mr Coveney said there was little point in forcing countries like Ireland to reduce the amount of food they produce at a time when the need for produce was growing globally.

He also pointed out that if Ireland did not produce the beef, then it would have to be imported from elsewhere, where it could possibly produce even more carbon gases, including having to fly it from areas like South America.

Because the Irish herd was mainly grass-fed outdoors, its carbon footprint was lower, while the pasture also acted as a carbon sink, much as do the bogs and forests.

The issue “has significant implications for the agriculture, land use change and forestry sectors”, he told the meeting.

The commission, which is drawing up carbon gas reduction targets for individual countries and the EU generally, now recognises the issue is multi-faceted involving the production of food, feed, raw materials, and energy, he said.

“Further analysis is needed to assess and identify the most appropriate policy approach and we have to make sure that decisions are in line with other EU policies, including the Common Agriculture Policy,” he said.

The ministers agreed to focus more closely on the issue at their meeting next month and come up with a comprehensive proposal, a significant win for Ireland, that has been pushing for this for some time.

An expert from the Government was seconded to the commission to help come up with solutions and Teagasc is carrying out research with EU funds also.

The country is facing two hurdles — it is the biggest producer of methane gas in the world after New Zealand, and with Denmark and Luxembourg, was set the highest greenhouse gas emission target cuts five years ago.

But experts believe there is little chance of Ireland achieving the 20% reduction by 2020 under the current conditions — and will be face the option of buying carbon credits for one year, but will be fined after that.

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