Farmers face €600m bill to cut emissions
CUTTING the number of cattle in the country in a bid to meet greenhouse gas targets would cost the beef industry €600m, a Teagasc conference on climate change heard yesterday.
Consumers would also face the prospect of higher food prices and more imports if less cattle were kept here.
Irish emissions must be cut by 20pc in the next decade and farming -- particularly cattle farming -- faces a major challenge to comply.
It is the single biggest contributor to Ireland's emissions, at more than a quarter of the total, the Teagasc conference was told yesterday.
Reducing cattle numbers would have a major economic impact on rural towns and earnings, said Dr Cathal O'Donoghue, rural economy research head at Teagasc.
The losses to the beef-processing sector from a 20pc cut in livestock numbers would amount to €595m, according to a detailed economic analysis, he revealed yesterday.
Urban households in small towns that are dependent on jobs in meat factories and spin-off businesses would be the worst hit.
However farmers would actually benefit as it now costs them more to produce cattle than they get paid for them, Dr O'Donoghue said.
Proposals for reducing farm emissions that have already been mooted at EU level include a carbon tax on cattle -- but there is fierce political opposition to this.
Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith pledged that Ireland would strongly resist any move to cut the Irish livestock herd that would result in an increase in beef imports. He said this would be counterproductive.
"Estimates show that the result of such a policy would be a growth in beef imported into the EU, which would be produced in countries with less sustainable farming systems than ours," he said in a speech that was delivered for him by his department secretary-general, Tom Moran.
He said Irish agriculture had already reduced its emissions by 8pc since 1990.
With worldwide food demand set to increase by 70pc by 2050, Ireland was ideally placed to help meet this soaring demand because its grass-based farming system produced less emissions than others which were grain-based, Mr Smith said.
Teagasc director professor Gerry Boyle said it would be "utter nonsense" to reduce food production in Ireland and he argued that the best approach would be to minimise the emissions instead.
But retailers' demand for reductions in the "carbon footprint" of the food they sell will also force farmers to produce food more sustainably, said Dr John Gilliland, a Northern Ireland farmer and advisor to the British government.