Government rules out climate change tax on agriculture

Meat Industry Ireland rounds on proposals to cut beef production

Alan Matthews
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

The Government has no plans to tax farmers on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture after moves by the Citizens' Assembly to back it.

A senior Government source pointed out that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are at the same level as 1990, although production has increased.

"It's not fully appreciated but Irish farming produces much less CO2 than other countries, Brazilian beef for example, so it makes no sense to displace production from Ireland to the Americas either economically or environmentally," he said.

Speaking at the recent Citizens' Assembly on Climate Change, Professor Alan Matthews of Trinity College proposed the introduction of a levy or tax on carbon emissions from agriculture.

Prof Matthews accepted that the introduction of a carbon tax or levy could result in a drift out of beef production but he pointed out that the majority of drystock farmers' incomes were heavily dependent on direct CAP payments and thereby were not unduly reliant on the actual keeping of livestock.

This view is borne out by the National Farm Survey figures for 2016, which show that on average CAP direct payments made up 96pc of beef farmers' incomes.

The Irish meat industry rejected suggestions that beef farming was not profitable and could be downgraded without significant losses to farmers' incomes in order to mitigate carbon emissions from the wider agriculture sector.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) director Cormac Healy has taken issue with Prof Matthew's assertions.

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"While there are, no doubt, income challenges on many beef farms related to scale and efficiency, there is clear evidence of beef enterprises delivering a positive margin when output per hectare and efficiencies are addressed," Mr Healy claimed.

The MII director also questioned the logic behind reducing Ireland's beef production from a climate change perspective.

'Carbon leakage'

"Reducing Irish beef production, which is among the most environmental sustainable in the world, to be replaced on the EU market by far less sustainably produced beef from South America, for example, is ridiculous.

"This is carbon leakage and gets us nowhere," Mr Healy insisted.

"Equally, our aim should not be to take jobs and economic activity out of rural Ireland, and that's what his proposals would do.

"Everyone is already focussed and working on improving our environmental performance in beef production."

Reacting to the MII comment, Prof Matthews said that he was not singling out any particular farming enterprise but that a signal needed to be sent to farmers that there was an environmental cost to increasing production.

He suggested that any revenue raised through the carbon tax or levy should be recycled into farming as a flat-rate support or to finance targeted climate-change initiatives. Irish beef exports are worth almost €2.5 billion annually.

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