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Dáil hears there are 'no proposals' to cull cattle as 80 countries sign pledge to cut methane

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said a reduction in slaughter age from 27 months to 24 months would help reduce emissions.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Nov 2nd 2021, 4:59 PM

MORE THAN 80 countries have now signed an EU/US pledge to slash methane emissions by 30% by the end of the decade. 

Cutting the powerful greenhouse gas by a third from 2020 levels will “immediately slow down climate change”, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen told the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. 

The agreement, which Ireland is a party to, was previously announced in September but more countries have now agreed to join the plan as part of COP26. 

It comes as the Dáil heard some heated exchanges about Ireland’s plans for cutting emissions this decade. The government’s Climate Action Plan is expected to be published on Thursday.  

Echoing earlier comments from Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that the government expects a “stabilisation” of the size of Ireland’s national herd rather than a reduction. 

Varadkar was responding to Independent TD Michael Collins who accused ministers of being “delusional” about plans for a “cull of cattle in this country”. 

“I would like that we set some time aside this week to discuss the climate action situation that we’re faced with and the difference of opinions that’s coming out there between Minister Ryan, the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach in relation to the cull of cattle in this country and the effects this is going to have on rural Ireland and agriculture in total,” he said. 

In response, Varadkar said that he would be “very happy” to have a Dáil debate about climate action proposals but that there is no question of a “cull” of cattle. 

“Let me be very clear deputy, there is not going to be any cull of the herd, that is not a proposal in the climate action plan,” he said. 

What we anticipate seeing over the next number of years is herd stabilisation. Some farmers may increase the number of animals they keep, others may decrease them because they decide to diversify into other areas.  

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae interjected following Varadkar’s comments, saying: “Stabilisation means a cut, call it what it is Tánaiste.”

His brother and fellow Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae has previously accused the government of seeking the reduce the number of cattle in the country. 

COP26

An Taoiseach had earlier told reporters in Glasgow that the size of the country’s cattle population should “remain stable” but that other approaches should be introduced to reduce emissions from the farming sector. 

Martin also said that Ireland’s food production sector was “one of the most efficient” in the world and that this was also a factor. 

He was speaking after Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said yesterday that cattle could be slaughtered earlier in their lifespan to help achieve a reduction in methane emissions. 

McConalogue said this would have a “significant impact” on reducing emissions “without necessarily reducing the herd”. 

Various approaches have been suggested ahead of the publication of the government’s Climate Action Plan which will lay out measures across different sectors to reduce Ireland’s overall emissions. 

It has also led to a debate about whether the government will seek to reduce the number of cattle in Ireland, which is one of the primary contributors to methane in the atmosphere. 

Recent figures have shown the overall numbers in the national herd have grown by nearly 80,000 in the space of 12 months but An Taoiseach has repeatedly denied that the government was seeking to force a reduction. 

Speaking at COP26 today, he again said that there was no intention to reduce what has been referred to as the”national herd”. 

“Our approach has been that the herd would remain stable but food security is important as well within a European context,” he said. 

Ireland is one of the most efficient food production systems in terms of carbon emissions globally and even within Europe. So that has to be in the balance in terms of any decisions we take. The grass based nature, the pastoral based nature of our farming is a plus and that’s important. 

He added: “But I think if we can do those other elements, I think we can rebalance our overall contribution and in terms of reducing the emissions from agriculture and food production but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Martin addressed the crucial climate summit this afternoon and said that there is obligation for richer countries to support nations most acutely impacted by climate change

Speaking earlier on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, Martin said that farms could seek to further diversify income streams from different processes.  

“I also believe that we need to switch more towards giving income to farmers to protect our biodiversity through a variety of imaginative schemes that will for example enable them to grow native tree species, and fund that. This will have an impact in terms of cleaning our waterways and our rivers which are in a bad state at the moment,” he said. 

Martin said this could potentially mean farms producing less. 

It could mean that, it could mean alternative sources of income other than the present day sources of income. It could mean better and a greater degree of organic farming for example, which we’ve made a start in terms of announcements by Charlie McConalogue in the context of the Common Agricultural Policy.  

Methane

Speaking yesterday on RTÉ’s Drivetime programme, McConalogue said the Climate Action Plan will be outlined “in the next number of days” and that “each sector will have different targets”. 

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He said that targets for reducing emissions in the agricultural sector will be “proportionate to what it can deliver” but “will be a challenge”.  

Speaking about the aim to reduce methane emissions by 30% up to 2030, he said that biogenic methane produced from agriculture would account for a third of that decrease.

He said one way of reducing methane from agriculture without reducing the overall size of the herd was reducing the average age at which cattle are slaughtered. 

“In relation to the average slaughter age at the moment for animals it’s 27 months of age for slaughter and there’s a target that we will seek to reduce that to 24 months average,” he said.  

That’s something which will significantly impact and will be the equivalent of removing thousands of animals for example from the system but from an efficiency point of view in terms of reducing overall methane. 

He added: “Overall if you look at a Food Vision 2030 strategy, which all of the sectoral partners participated in, it’s seeking to reduce methane across the board by 10%, over the course of the next period of time up to 2030.”

It’s belived that about 30% of global warming since the Industrial Revolution is due to methane.

“Today global methane emissions grow faster than at any time in the past,” she said adding that reducing methane is one of the most effective ways to reduce near-term warming and keep the Paris goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming alive,” von der Leyen said today. 

- With reporting by Orla Dwyer in Glasgow 

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Rónán Duffy

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