Lawmakers and stakeholders close to the agriculture community accused the EU executive of being disconnected from reality and creating additional bureaucracy after presenting new rules to curb pollution in the industrial sector.
The proposed legislation, presented by the European Commission on Tuesday (5 April), aims to reduce harmful emissions coming from industrial installations.
According to Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, the new rules will put the ‘polluter pays’ principle into practice by bringing additional costs for these businesses.
In particular, the scope of the previous 2010 directive will be extended not only to cover mineral mining and specific activities in textile production but also to include the largest livestock farms in Europe – now considered ‘agro-industrial installations’.
“Large scale cattle farming will be covered by these rules together with more intensive pig and poultry farms,” said EU’s environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius presenting the rules.
The Commission estimates the health benefits of such extended coverage at more than €5.5 billion per year, highlighting that about 13% of Europe’s commercial farms, together responsible for 60% of the EU’s livestock emissions of ammonia and 43% of methane.
The proposed revision was hailed by environmental NGOs active in agri-food sector sustainability due to the impact of intensive livestock farming on water, air and soil quality.
“Requiring these giants of industrial livestock farming to obtain a pollution permit is the bare minimum for the EU,” commented Marco Contiero, agriculture policy director at the European office of Greenpeace.
However, the draft rules were met with harsh criticism from the farming sector, whose mood was summarised by the words used on Twitter by French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie. He called the proposal ‘nonsense’ that “does not take into account the reality of our farms.”
He added that the French delegation, currently holding the EU presidency until the end of June, will fight “at the EU Council level to bring reason back into the text.”
.@EU_Commission a adopté aujourd’hui un projet de directive sur les émissions industrielles qui ne tient pas compte de la réalité de nos élevages.
C’est un non-sens. Nous nous battrons au niveau du Conseil pour remettre de la raison dans ce texte. https://t.co/kjilw2JLis
— Julien Denormandie (@J_Denormandie) April 5, 2022
Asked by EURACTIV to elaborate on the tweet, Denormandie confirmed the French position when the matter will come to the EU Council table.
“The issue is not on the agenda at the moment, but other delegations expressed similar reservations as strong as the reservations I presented,” he said in a press conference after the meeting of EU-27 agriculture ministers in Luxembourg on Thursday (7 April).
Bone of contention
The main issue is where the EU lawmakers will set the threshold for applying anti-pollution rules to the farms. In the Commission proposal, the directive will cover all industrial farms with more than 150 livestock units (LSUs).
The LSU is a reference unit for the EU executive that facilitates livestock aggregation from various species and ages. One unit consists of the grazing equivalent of one adult dairy cow producing 3,000 kilograms of milk annually.
According to these calculations, 150 livestock units are equivalent to 150 adult cows, or 375 calves, or 10,000 laying hens, or 500 pigs, or 300 sows.
But according to the EU farmers’ lobby COPA-COGECA, many family farms will fall under the directive’s scope and be classified as agro-industrial installations due to this ‘accounting’ jargon.
“Lowering the threshold so dramatically will severely hit the European model of family farming with additional costs and bottlenecks,” said Christian Lambert, COPA president.
The farmers association pointed out that the proposed threshold of 150 livestock units means that more than 90% of the broilers production in Germany and Finland will be considered “agro-industrial installations” with the same share as French pig, beef and dairy producers.
“Let’s say you have a farm with 100 or so dairy cows in a mountain area in Europe. Is that an industrial farm? No, it’s not,” said Denormandie replying to a question by EURACTIV.
For Denormandie, the proposed threshold is an ‘aberration in terms of substance’ that could deepen the divide between farmers and Europe.
Commissioner: “I did it”
In a leak of the proposal circulated ahead of its publication, the threshold was initially set at 100 livestock units. When the revision was unveiled with a higher threshold, NGOs ‘suspected’ pressure from the farm lobby.
However, in the press conference after the Agrifish Council on Thursday (7 April), Agriculture Commissioner Wojciechowski came out and took it upon himself.
“Commissioners should not comment on the discussion that was held among Commissioners on a piece of legislation. What I can say is that I asked to increase the number of units,” he revealed.
The Polish Commissioner also expressed reservations about the method used to determine whether a farm is industrial or not, which relies only on the number of animals in the proposal.
“Sometimes a smaller number of animals could be subject to intensive farming too,” he said, adding that this will be subject to further discussion.
Administrative aspects also created discontent in the farming sector, although all farms covered will benefit from a lighter permitting regime as they have simpler operations than industrial plants.
But according to Irish centre-right MEP Colm Markey, the proposal could turn into ‘a bureaucratic nightmare’ for farmers.
“With a wait time for licenses in Ireland currently at nine months and environmental inspections taking place every one to three years, I question whether we even have the capacity to deliver what the EU requires,” he commented.
The Commission estimates administrative costs for implementing the new rules, including the cost for operators, at €223 million.
“Even with a final adoption next year, which remains to be seen. Implementation on the ground will only start in 2027, which is five years from now. Operators will then have a few years to comply,” said vice-president Frans Timmermans.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]