The European Commission’s plan to extend a permitting system to a greater number of farms in the EU has been described as “onerous” by Ireland.

Barbara Cullinane, Ireland’s deputy permanent representative to the EU, was sitting in for Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue at a meeting of EU agriculture ministers yesterday (Monday, September 26) in the Council of the EU.

The planned review of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) – which aims to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from industrial installations – came up for discussion.

Earlier this year, the commission published proposed changes to the IED that will see a greater number of farms – including, for the first time, cattle farms – require environmental permits to operate. Farms are included due to the production of ammonia and methane.

The commission has proposed to set a threshold of 150 livestock units (LUs), above which the permits would apply. A single LU equates to a variable number of animals, with 1 LU equating to one male bovine aged two years or more, or one dairy cow.

Speaking at the council meeting yesterday, Cullinane said: “Ireland supports the objectives of the legislation to reduce ammonia emissions and methane. However, Ireland considers that the proposed 150 LU limit is not justified.”

She added: “This limit would mean that a significant number of smaller family farms in Ireland and across the EU would fall under the scope of the directive and be subject to disproportionately onerous administrative and financial obligations.

“We believe the directive should be properly focused on agro-industrial scale enterprises, and that the proposed livestock unit limit should be reconsidered in order to avoid negative impacts on family farms.”

Cullinane told the meeting that Irish cattle production is almost exclusively outdoor pasture grazing, with animals housed indoors for a short winter period.

“Ammonia emissions are lower in this system compared to systems of production where animals are housed indoors year-round,” she added.

“Therefore, the specifications of pasture-based production systems must be properly taken into account within the directive, and the principles of, and framework under which, the operating rules will be implemented should be an essential part of the legislation, and be addressed as part of the revision of the directive itself,” the Irish representative said.

However, the representative for the European Commission who attended the meeting moved to defend the current proposals, saying that the 150 LU limit is “the most balanced” which reflects the best cost-benefit ratio of all options considered; as well as the number of farms that would be covered.

He said: “150 LUs is not a small farm. We are talking here about 150 milking cows, at least 100 pigs, at least 21,000 chickens. This will cover only 184,000 EU farms, leaving 1.5 million out of the scope [of the directive].”

The commission representative also said that farms will not be subject to the full IED permitting regime that is applied to heavy industry.

“Instead we have proposed a new regime that minimizes the administrative burden on farms,” he told the council.

“Member states will be able to implement this requirement through national general binding rules combined either with a permit or registration, and this flexibility will allow member states to implement the new rules in a manner most compatible with the existing regulatory regimes that apply…at national level.”