The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said it opposes advice from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) to cut livestock numbers in Northern Ireland to meet 2030 emissions targets.

The consultation was on Northern Ireland’s 2030 and 2040 emissions reduction targets and the first three carbon budgets.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is seeking views on the advice of the CCC – which includes reducing dairy cattle numbers by 22%, beef cattle numbers by 17% and sheep, pigs and poultry numbers by 18%.

UFU president David Brown said that, while the union recognises that action is needed, that it “cannot support” any proposals to achieve net zero that will impact Northern Ireland’s food security and suppress the livestock industry.

“Cutting livestock numbers is not going to change consumer demand for dairy and meat. It will result in products produced to lower standards being imported to replace what we can no longer produce,” he said.

“If this happens, we wouldn’t be playing our part in tackling climate change, we would be passing the buck.

“We would be putting countries that have higher emissions from food production and are working to feed a growing global population, under pressure to produce more food.”

Sustainable food production

Brown said it is vital that a balance is found between sustainable food production in Northern Ireland and climate action.

“It’s critical that a balance is found between sustainable food production in NI which is the backbone of rural communities, and climate action to prevent carbon leakage,” he said.

“Especially when NI dairy farming has reduced its carbon intensity by 34% since 1990 and greenhouse gases from UK beef are about half the global average.

“Government needs to step outside their bubble and wake up to the social and economic impact their net zero targets in NI will create at home and abroad.”

Brown said the union is largely in support of DAERA’s alternative suggestion for reducing emissions from agriculture based on the policies and proposals within the Future Agricultural Policy Programme.

“This remains a very tough challenge for the industry, but we will continue to combat climate change,” he said.

“Agriculture is one of few sectors in NI that has policy ready, and a budget allocated to continue delivering climate action in line with the first carbon budget.

“It’s vital that policy supports us to do the same without supressing local farming.”