The Emerald Isle of Ireland has long been known for its large livestock and meat and dairy farming. There are more cattle than people living in the republic. Now considerations by the Dublin government have caused a stir among farmers. An internal paper of the Ministry of Agriculture states that in order to achieve the self-imposed climate protection targets, the livestock population would have to be reduced by 10 percent in the next few years – which corresponds to about 740,000 animals. The cows emit methane, a gas that has a high impact on the climate, from their intestines and when they ruminate.

Philip Plickert

Business correspondent based in London.

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In order to achieve the climate targets, the Ministry of Agriculture's paper proposes to cull up to 2023,2025 suckler cows, i.e. a total of around 65,000 cows, in each of the years 200 to 000, thus significantly reducing the total population. Compensation for the livestock farmers is estimated at around 3000 euros per animal. In total, the mass killing of the cows would cost 600 million euros, calculates the house of Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue.

The "Exit" program is intended to be particularly attractive to older farmers who are approaching retirement age. When the paper, which only came to light last week as a result of a request from the press under the Freedom of Information Act and made waves in the public debate, the government was quick to downplay the considerations as "mere options". There are no concrete plans yet.

"Massacre of our precious cows"

In rural areas, however, the considerations caused a great deal of excitement. Michael Healy-Rae, the independent member of the House of Commons for Kerry, predicted that Leo Varadkar's government would be as popular with rural voters as the bubonic plague if it went through with plans for mass culling. Dublin is governed by a coalition of Varadkar's bourgeois Fine Gael party with the liberal-conservative Fianna Fail Party and the Greens. Former Donegal Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill railed against the "heinous attack on rural Ireland" and the "government's secret plan for a massacre of our precious cows" in a press release.

Tim Cullinan, president of the Irish Farmers' Union, warned that if the Republic sets a limit on production, meat and dairy production will simply migrate to other countries. "Such reports only fuel the view that the government is working behind the scenes to undermine our dairy and livestock industries," Cullinan said. Instead of encouraging farmers to give up their jobs, the government needs to help bring the next generation into agriculture.

Herds of cattle no larger than 25 years ago

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association urged the government to make participation in the culling programme voluntary. Pat McCormack, head of the association, finds it "frustrating" that the dairy industry is being pilloried. The herds of cattle are no larger than they were 25 or 30 years ago. CO2 emissions from transport or aviation have risen more, he said.

Experts point out that the production of meat and milk in Ireland causes fewer climate-impacting emissions than in many other countries because of the relatively gentle pasture farming there, where the cows eat grass from the meadow, and also serves to protect the landscape.