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Nearly half of people in Ireland think the number of cows should be limited or reduced

Climate experts have advised that reducing the number of cows in Ireland would have a significant impact for reducing emissions.

ALMOST HALF OF people in Ireland – 45% -  believe the cattle population should be limited or reduced as part of climate measures.

Polling by The Good Information Project/Ireland Thinks found that 23% of people think the number of cows in Ireland should be limited to its current level and 22% feel it should be reduced.

Source: /Flourish

However, people living outside of Dublin were far more likely to support farmers being allowed to decide their herd for themselves.

Overall, 39% of people think there should be no limit and farmers should be allowed to determine their herd.

That rises to 41% in Munster and 51% in Connacht and Ulster, compared to 29% in Dublin and 38% in Leinster.

Agriculture is the sector with the highest greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland, making up 35% of national emissions, followed by transport at 20%.

Of agriculture’s emissions, cattle account for almost all of them at around 85%.

The Climate Change Advisory Council, a panel of climate experts, has advised that reducing the number of cows in Ireland would have a substantial impact in reducing emissions. 

The council’s proposed carbon budget that was published this week outlines actions that farmers can take to mitigate the negative effects of agriculture on emissions, but says that “changes in agricultural emissions over and above those delivered by mitigation measures are driven by changes in bovine agricultural activity levels” – that is, cattle.

Looking at potential scenarios for reducing Ireland’s emissions, under scenarios where agricultural emissions must fall by 30% or more, suckler cows would need to decline from one million in 2018 to around 200,000 by 2030, the council’s technical report said.

A 33% reduction would require dairy cow numbers to move from 1.4 million to 1.2 million and to achieve a 51% reduction in the sector, dairy cow numbers would need to fall from 1.4 million to 650,000. 


Ireland Thinks polled a representative sample of 1,200 people on 16 October for their stance on reducing or limiting the number of cows in the country.

18 to 24-year-olds were the age group most likely to say that it should be reduced, with 35% in favour.

In contrast, 45 to 54-year-olds had the highest support for letting farmers decide their herds at 50%.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voters held almost the same beliefs, with 43% of respondents from both camps saying farmers should be allowed to decide, but that support dropped to only 7% among voters for their government colleagues in the Green Party.

Green ideas

In England, the government is trying to encourage older farmers to retire in a bid to bring more younger, ‘greener’ farmers into the sector.

It introduced a scheme earlier this year where farmers can receive a once-off lump sum payment to retire. 

Asked whether Ireland should do the same, people from every part of the country on average said yes – 62% in Dublin, 54% in Leinster, 57% in Munster and 58% in Connacht and Ulster.

The national result was 58% in favour, 28% against, and 14% didn’t know.

Support was highest among Green Party and Labour Party voters at 80% and 79% but lowest with Aontú at 32%.

Fine Gael and People Before Profit voters gave similar responses – 53% and 54% yes and 31% and 36% no respectively.


The Ireland Thinks poll asked respondents which commercial sectors they trust the least when it comes to taking responsible action on emissions.

32% said they did not trust the agriculture sector, although distrust was higher in chemical manufacturers, energy companies and transport.

Faith in airlines, shipping and road transport was the lowest of any sector, with 58% of people saying they trusted it the least.

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46% of people have the least trust in energy companies; 39% in cement and chemical manufacturers; and 18% in car manufacturers.

Only 7% of people believe all of those sectors are doing enough.

Among Labour and Green Party voters, a lack of trust in the agriculture sector was particularly acute – 51% and 61% respectively have the least trust in it.

Social Democrats are relatively confident in the sector with only 19% having least faith in it, while Aontú voters were drastically distant from other alignments at 3%.

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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