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‘Ciao’ cows: Cattle excluded from EU’s industrial emissions cut plan

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Cattle farms have been excluded from new rules to cut harmful industrial emissions in a deal by the European Parliament and the EU Council that waters down the Commission’s environmental ambitions.

The provisional agreement by the European Parliament and the EU Council on the revision of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), unveiled on Wednesday (29 November), has put a stop to the Commission’s intention to set emission limits for large-scale cattle farms.

“No, livestock farmers are not industrialists and cows are not waste!” tweeted the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) lawmaker Benoit Lutgen after the deal.

The IED aims to advance towards the European Green Deal’s goal to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 by setting emission limits for some industries, including “industrial” farms.

“This agreement marks a crucial step forward in ensuring robust measures for environmental and human health protection,” reads a statement by the EU Socialists & Democrats party. 

Lawmakers left cattle outside the scope of the law and established that the EU executive must assess how to best address these emissions by the end of 2026.

“The European Commission must (…) communicate fairly and transparently with farmers before coming back to Parliament with a new legislative proposal on cattle inclusion,” said the other EPP lawmaker Radan Kanev. 

The agreement further reduced the scope of the Commission’s proposal, presented in April 2022, by setting a threshold that includes fewer pig and poultry farms than what the EU executive originally aimed for. 

Concretely, lawmakers agreed to define “industrial” farms as those with more than 350 livestock units (LSU) for pigs, 300 adult livestock units (LUA) for poultry, and 280 for broilers. The Commission aimed for a more ambitious 150 LSU for all livestock – including cattle. 

The EU’s farmers association COPA-COGECA welcomed lawmakers’ efforts to change “a Commission’s proposal which was out of touch with on-the-ground realities”. However, they said the deal “dismissed” consequences for poultry and pig farms. 

The association also lamented that the question of agricultural imports remains unsolved. 

“Who will be able to explain to European farming families that we are going to import (…) meat and eggs from foreign companies that will not respect any of the IED standards?” asked COPA-COGECA in a press release.  

Farmers pushed for a “reciprocity clause” to ensure that manufacturers outside the EU meet similar environmental requirements to EU producers. The European Parliament initially supported the idea, but the Council was hesitant and such a clause did not make it into the final agreement. 

On the other hand, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said the new IED “maintains protection for the polluting status quo”.

“This is a bitter example of how EU decision-makers are disconnected from public interests and unwilling to translate the EU Green Deal into clear rules,” said EEB’s policy officer Christian Schaible. 

Similarly, the animal welfare organisation Four Paws lamented that “another opportunity to adapt the animal farming industry for the future is lost”. 

The provisional agreement will now be submitted to the member states’ representatives within the EU Council and the MEPs. If approved, the new rules on livestock will be applied progressively, starting in 2030 with the largest farms.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Nathalie Weatherald]

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