It is totally unreasonable to include the agricultural sector in the Industrial Emission Directive!

Article by Ronald Pirlot, Pleinchamp and translated by ELV

A few months ago, the European Commission proposed to extend the scope of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) to, previously exempted, cattle farming, and to lower the threshold for its applicability to all farms with more than 150 livestock units i.e. a farm with 90 cows, including young stock! This is quite simply unreasonable, as a delegation of MEPs and assistants of MEPs saw when they visited the Godfriaux family farm in Perwez and the Paquet family farm in Yvoir in Belgium.

Wednesday 7 September, 2.15pm. A bus drives through the peaceful countryside of Perwez, before coming to a halt just outside the pig farm that Jordan Godfriaux runs with his wife in Malèves-Sainte-Marie-Wastinnes. A delegation of around thirty people including three MEPs and a dozen parliamentary assistants had accepted the European Livestock Voice invitation to come see a farm up close and experience ‘all the industrial emissions’ first-hand.

The farm study visit was supported by the Walloon Federation of Agriculture (FWA), and their President Marianne Streel welcomed the group, saying, “With this field visit, we want to show you how we work on our farms, which are first and foremost family farms with a very strong connection to the surrounding land. According to the Commission, the costs coming from the proposal for farms concerned will be as high as about 2,400€ only for administrative costs. But according to our calculations, it will be considerably more because of the best available techniques (BATs) that accompany it. But beyond the non-negligible financial aspect, we find it deeply shocking to associate the practices and the daily running of our farms with the term “industrial”, even though our farms are subject to the highest production standards. There is also a risk of stigmatisation which could undermine the relationship of trust established with our customer base in the excellence of our products. Europe may wish to class us as industrial, but we appeal to your common sense to ensure that this does not happen.

The proposal indicates that the EU Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) should also apply to livestock farming and its application should be extended to all types of livestock farms from a planned threshold of 150 livestock units (LSU). This would lead to additional costs and as an administrative burden for the farms concerned, without any additional environmental gain given the high standards already in place. “The IED will contradict our current legal provisions for environmental permits and soil regulations. As such, the directive is not adapted to our Walloon agricultural sector,” warned Mr Bissot, project manager for the EurECO office.

The farmer Jordan Godfriaux gave a short history of his pig fattening farm and his farm shop, highlighting the human element behind the farm, the commitment, and the cooperative process as well as mutual exchanges including bedding and food with neighbouring farmers. “15% of our production is sold on the farm from our farm shop, the remaining 85% is sold through the cooperative run by the farmers themselves, which oversees the entire chain from production to the consumer’s plate” explained Jordan Godfriaux. He also highlighted the environmental measures taken on the farm with solar panels, rainwater recovery, etc.  “In short, we are self-sufficient in terms of energy”. The visiting MEPs and assistants were happy to partake in a tasting of the farm specialities, before heading to the second farm where they would hear from Adrien Paquet on his beef farm in Dorinne.

Like Jordan, Adrien is a true enthusiast. He waxed lyrical about his job, and his “Bleu Blanc Belge” cattle that he clearly cherishes.  “It’s a typical farm for the region, again closely linked to the land. We produce beef cattle with veal raised on their mother’s milk”. He also spoke of his family heritage and his interest in protecting the environment as demonstrated by the ongoing experiment to measure carbon capture in the soil in one of his fields, a project that has been being conducted for 12 years now by the University of Liège.

A family farm means a farm you can pass on. We must maintain the practices for our children, as our parents did before us. This family model is very important to me”. With that he asked our visitors, “You’ve seen it all now. So, do you consider my farm to be industrial?

“We have 9 months to challenge the proposal” (Benoît Lutgen (EPP, BE) Rapporteur on the directive)

The only Belgian MEP present, Benoît Lutgen, listened attentively to what was said during the visit. As rapporteur on the directive for the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee he said, “I would like to thank the FWA for immediately flagging the problem to me. This meant that I could apply to be the rapporteur on this proposal and defend our shared point of view”, his opinion is clear-cut. “It is totally unreasonable to include the agricultural sector in this directive and to consider a Walloon farm such as these on par with industries, like Arcelor Mittal. It makes no sense, except to far-removed consultants and civil servants. Because as far as the environment is concerned, farming practices are already subject to very high standards. On the contrary, the directive risks the loss of smaller farms to the benefit of the big farms, which are the only ones able to digest the costs that the directive will impose”.

What next? The rapporteurs will share their analysis in early October. This will be followed by a meeting of the AGRI Committee in November with possible amendments. The final vote, during the Parliament’s plenary, is expected in Spring or during early Summer. “In other words, there are about 9 months of fighting left” concluded Benoît Lutgen.

“Agriculture needs a derogation in the IED” (Jérémy Decerle (Renew, FR) shadow Rapporteur of the directive)

Holding a double role as MEP and farmer in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté in France, Jérémy Decerle (Renew, FR) did not mince his words. “Europe has still not understood that its agriculture is not like any other because it is already subjected to the highest animal welfare and quality standards. So, those who draft the new proposals should get out of the Berlaymont and drive half an hour, like us, to see the reality of the practices on the ground. They would realise that they risk jeopardising farms that are already taking an environmental approach and are already doing more for the environment than they are! How can you explain to a farmer in the Massif Central who has 50 animals on 100 hectares that he is running an industrial farm? For me, the idea would be to consider agriculture as a specific matter. And introduce an agricultural derogation in the IED.”