Climate Change Bill will ‘take Northern Ireland agriculture sector back to 1947’

The agriculture sector in Northern Ireland will be heading ‘back to 1947’ if Stormont’s MLAs agree to a Climate Change Bill.

Thursday, 13th January 2022, 5:38 pm

The stark warning came from South Down TUV assembly candidate, Harold McKee, in the wake of a Climate Change Bill debate, held on the farm of Pat McKay, Burren.

Councillor McKee thanked the UFU and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Organisations for allowing him and other South Down politicians to take part in the discussion.

While the focus was on Clare Bailey’s proposals, Cllr McKee said he is also “sceptical, to say the least,” about the ideas that have been floated by Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots within his legislation.

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David Gordon of Annalong Holstein's and TUV Councillor Harold McKee.

“My starting point is a simple one - farming is not the enemy of the environment,” he explained.

“Far from it. Particularly in Northern Ireland, farms are a model of good environmental practice.

“As custodians of the land, farmers have special interest in maximising sustainability and to suggest that they have been doing things wrong for years is, to my mind, nonsense.

“Having listened to the farmers and farm suppliers, I am in no doubt they were taking this issue very seriously and questioning their viability as suppliers, beef and dairy producers in the years ahead, should it become law.”

The Mournes representative revealed two businessmen, who process and supply farm products, have ceased their plans to extend their premises as a result of the discussions currently taking place in Stormont.

“One already employs 45 people, but with these proposals on the table, he sees no long term need for his supplies,” he continued.

“Another dairy farmer was concerned about the 86 per cent reduction in dairy cattle between now and 2045 proposed in the Bailey Bill.

“He used the example of a 200-cow herd being reduced to 28 cows and a 20-cow herd being cut to 2.8 which may mean two cows.

“In his own words, ‘this is not on, this destroys the small farmer and encourages growth within the larger farms’.

“Another questioned where income was coming from with 13,000 job losses expected by 2045.”

Cllr McKee was a cattle producer and DAERA spokesperson in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016/17, so has a keen interest in all aspects of agriculture.

During the recent meeting, he drew the audience’s attention to what Dr. Mitloehner had to say in relation to greenhouse gases.

“Dr. Mitloehner is a professor and air quality specialist in the Department of Animal Science, University of California,” Cllr McKee stated.

“He has pointed out that biogenic methane from livestock is not the same as fossil methane from oil and gas.

“The carbon that is emitted by our animals is a ‘recycled carbon’, fossil fuels extracted from land or sea, used for oil or gas and burned in all modes of transport, is not a cycle but a ‘one-way street’.

“With the uncertainties around this bill, our agriculture sector representative bodies commissioned KPMG, an audit and advisory service, to carry out an impact assessment on the proposed legislation and produce a draft report.

“At the end of the meeting all attendees were given a copy of the KPMG draft report.

“Since having read the report, I am even more convinced that the bill on reducing zero emissions by 2045 will have a detrimental impact on farms and our economy.”

The Mourne councillor continued: “Not only is agriculture a crucial contributor to the local economy, it contributes £2.23bn of gross output to the UK economy and feeds approximately 10 million people.

“The total loss from 2021-2045 to the Northern Ireland economy would be £11bn.

“Total economic output would fall between eight per cent – 66 per cent across the sector.

“The KPMG report shows stark reductions of beef and cattle in the lead up to 2045 of 1.12million, 1.71 million sheep and 270,000 dairy cattle.

“This shows a fall in herd numbers of between 11 per cent – 86 per cent by 2045.

“This equates to 14,800 less favoured area beef and sheep farms, 4,100 low land farms and 2,250 dairy farms ceasing to operate.

“No wonder the farmers we met were fuming.

“The UK’s Climate Change Committee recommended an 82 per cent reduction in Northern Ireland’s sector-wide emissions by 2050.

“In a recent message to the CCC members, the chairman, Lord Deben, reiterated that there is ‘no credible path’ for NI to reach net zero by 2045 and that asking people to do so would be ‘morally wrong’.

“The bill is looking towards ‘behavioural change’, which means a shift from consumers eating animal-based products to plant-based diets and animal-based meat replaced by 30 per cent lab grown meat - cultured meat made from harvesting living animal cells.

“KPMG state this shift does not necessarily mean a reduction in carbon emissions as it can have a detrimental impact on the environment, producing more raw waste, more methane, using more water and fossil fuels.”

Cllr McKee said the bill will have a “major impact” on the 650,000 people who live in Northern Ireland’s rural areas, with “78 per cent family-owned rural micro businesses who have a high dependency on farm activities, and know very well that the future success of the rural economy is inextricably linked to rural agriculture and agri-food business”.

“If behavioural change doesn’t happen then we have ‘carbon leakage’, which will be a result of imported food from other countries for example, Australian beef which is produced cheaper with less traceability and flown by aeroplane or shipped using fossil fuels.

“Brazil is also another large beef producer who is a high carbon emitter, have cleared a rain forest area the size of the island of Ireland to produce cheaper beef with no regard for climate change.”

The 2022 assembly candidate said farmers know that change is needed, many of whom have taken steps to reduce emissions on their farms.

He added: “Agricultural researchers are already working on new technologies and processes to combat climate change.

“If Stormont’s MLAs agree to a Climate Change Bill they need to realise, instead of a progressive Northern Ireland, they have agreed to take Northern Ireland agricultural sector back to 1947.

“Those who lived through World War II know they never wasted food because there was a shortage, and the only way for a minimum distribution was a ‘food ration book’.

“This is the direction we will be heading,” Cllr McKee concluded.