Irish government proposes mass culling of cows to meet radical net zero climate targets

By Thomas Brooke
4 Min Read

The Irish government would need to set aside a €600 million budget in order to cull 65,000 cows every year for three years in order to meet its climate targets, according to internal reports seen by the Irish Independent.

The newspaper reported that 10 percent of all livestock in Ireland would need to be “displaced” in the coming years in order to comply with the government’s ambitious plans of achieving net zero carbon emissions by no later than 2050 and reducing emissions by 51 percent by 2030.

A mass culling of 200,000 cows over three years could be one way to help the Irish agricultural sector “close the gap” on its emissions targets, according to the briefing paper by the Department of Agriculture.

The plan would see Irish farmers compensated for the loss of their dairy herd, with the report suggesting a budget of €600 million would be required.

Farmers, however, aren’t convinced of the need to resort to such drastic measures and believe that other polluting industries aren’t being required to suffer the same fate.

Pat McCormack, the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, told Newsweek on Tuesday that the Irish dairy herd isn’t any bigger than it was at the turn of the century.

“Our herd isn’t any larger than it was 25, 30 years ago. Can the same be said for the transport industry, can the same be said for the aviation industry?” he asked.

When asked whether farmers consider the cull of its dairy herd to be reasonable, McCormack replied: “If there is a scheme, it needs to be a voluntary scheme. That’s absolutely critical because there’s no point in culling numbers from an individual who has borrowed on the back of a huge financial commitment on the back of achieving a certain target that’s taken from under him.”

The association president explained that the farming industry is prepared to commit to the strategic direction of the Irish government and play their role, but he claimed that other avenues could and should be explored, rather than solely relying on killing off cattle.

“We should be investing in an infrastructure that can deliver from a scientific perspective. And we know low emissions are better, and we should be continuing to invest in further science and research because that’s absolutely critical as we move forward,” he told listeners.

The plans have been long in the making, with the proposals first outlined back in 2021. A report at the time suggested that up to 1.3 million cattle would need to be culled in order to reduce greenhouse gases in the Irish agriculture sector to sustainable levels.

A consortium named the Food Vision Dairy Group was created to examine ways for Irish farmers in the dairy sector to meet climate targets, and a proposal of a €5,000 compensatory payment per cow was considered.

Some government departments have gone even more extreme with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report published in February this year calling for a 30 percent cut in the estimated 7.4 million cattle currently across Ireland.

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