There is no talk of “enforced cull” of cattle herds in the Department of Agriculture (DAFM) to reduce emissions, the Joint Oireachtas Agriculture Committee has heard.
Ale Crammond DAFM Livestock Emissions Inspector said the Department’s focus instead remains on measures to reduce the age of slaughter from 27 to 24 months, stocking rates not to exceed 170kg/ha of nitrogen per year and stricter restrictions on fertilizer use.
At a broad meeting to calculate the country’s methane emissions and sectoral emission caps, Prof Frank Mitloehner, animal and air quality expert at the University of California, Davis, warned committee members that reducing herd size in Ireland “is not a practical solution.” ‘ and could ‘result in an increase – not a decrease – in greenhouse gas emissions’.
Oxford University climate scientist Prof Myles Allen said if methane emissions in Ireland “decreased by just 3 per cent per decade” (e.g. by gradually reducing staff numbers or adding algae to feed) then the flock’s methane emissions would decrease “have no further warming effect on global temperature”.
Prof Barry McMullin, from the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science at DCU, warned that unless methane emissions from all sources, including ruminant farming, do not “reduce substantially” in the coming decades, “we will not limit the peak in global temperatures “.
Despite acknowledging problems with the accuracy of the metrics used to calculate methane, Maynooth University climate scientist Peter Thorne said: “Okay or not,” Ireland’s performance against ongoing accounting systems “will result in fines or not EU”.
It comes amid ongoing political tensions over the soon-to-be-announced, legally binding, sectoral emissions cut for Irish agriculture by 2030, with a target of 22-30 per cent on the table.
Asked by Michael Fitzmaurice Independent TD if the Department was considering “enforced culling” to reduce emissions from the agricultural sector, Mr Crammond replied:
“The targets for agriculture are very ambitious, it will require every farmer in the country to contribute to these targets and every farmer is different, so the contribution each individual farmer will make to the process will be different.
“No one in the Ministry of Agriculture is talking about forced culling. We have defined a series of measures in the climate protection plan that we must implement – and quickly.
“The earlier age of slaughter is exactly the kind of problem we need to bottom out. There are many Aberdeen Angus cattle that are done without grass at 22 and 23 months. We need to see how the genetics of these animals allow them to be killed at these weights.
“By switching to earlier slaughter from 27 months to 24 months, there’s potentially a 0.7 megaton emissions reduction that’s going to have a really significant impact on reducing methane emissions, so that’s exactly the kind of action we need to look at.”
On the future of herd size in Ireland, Prof Mitloehner warned that “world demand for food of animal origin is increasing”, with the bulk of livestock emissions “coming from less efficient regions of the world”.
“Reducing herd size is not a practical solution, especially in Ireland where farmers are very efficient producers.
“If they reduced their herds, production would likely be shifted to another region to meet global demand.
“Given how competent Irish farmers are, those who are bridging the gap so to speak may be less environmentally responsible than Irish farmers. This is called leakage, a phenomenon that could well lead to an increase – not a decrease – in greenhouse gas emissions.”
When asked about the issue by Green Party TD Brian Leddin, Prof Allen said: “There is no question that increasing the size of a herd has a warming effect on the planet” because “it increases the amount of methane in the air at any point in time”.
But he argued that traditional accounting systems used to report methane “misrepresent the gas’s impact on global temperature.”
“Past increases in herd size have had a warming effect and future hypothetical increases in herd size would have a very significant warming effect – some of Ireland’s trading partners plan to increase their herd significantly over the next 30 years.
“I think Ireland could have a profound geopolitical impact by starting to report on the warming impact of emissions in its contributions to the UNFCCC.
“We absolutely need to discourage countries, or at least make them realize what they are doing when they increase their herds – they are causing massive amounts of unacknowledged warming.
“Reducing methane has the same effect on global temperature as removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So reducing a herd has the same impact on global temperature as planting lots of trees and actively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“I don’t see why it needs to be argued about, because that’s actually a good thing, it’s just not being recognized in the way we characterize the impact of methane at the moment – and if it were recognized it could take a long time to address the concerns.” to disperse the farmers.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/news/farming-news/no-talk-of-forced-cull-at-dafm-as-officials-target-reduced-slaughter-age-41857593.html ‘No talk of forced culling’ at DAFM as officials seek reduction in age for slaughter