A tougher emissions directive

EU AG COMMISSIONER EU agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has defended the move to include livestock in the industrial emissions directive. Credit: European Union 2023 – European Parliament, Alexis Haulot

The European dairy sector will be keeping a close eye on negotiations in Brussels about proposed reforms to the European Union (EU) industrial emissions directive (IED), in case the final text includes milk producers – potentially limiting, for example, how they release methane and ammonia, especially, via air and liquid emissions.

‘Trilogue’ talks between the European Commission, the EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are now under way on proposals that, in its initial text, included large dairy farms in an emissions control regime designed to restrict pollution. If the final legislation includes these businesses, they will need to secure industrial emissions permits to operate, and covering all types of pollution, including manure run off.

A general approach by the EU Council of Ministers, representing EU member states, initially backed including dairy in the legislation, which had been proposed by the Commission, whose current leadership is making the environment a key priority under its European Green Deal policy (1). Ministers backed dairy’s inclusion when units reared 350 or more cattle (the Commission had proposed a minimum of 150), except on more extensive farms, where the stocking density is less than two cows/hectare and used only for grazing, growing fodder or forage (2).

The drafts debated thus far include significant amounts of detail on how a revised EU industrial emissions system would work. For instance, the council text says that where member states set general rules for a sector, they should require best available techniques (BAT) “relevant in determining the lowest emission levels achievable.” These would be based on detailed guidance already issued by the European Commission, which are regularly updated.

Emissions control

The proposed law also laid down some basic minimums for emissions control permit registrations, such as providing information on a dairy producer’s activities, the animal type, the capacity of the installation, sources of emissions from the installation, the nature and “quantities of foreseeable emissions from the installation into each medium.”

If dairy remains in the final text, EU member states would have to police dairy businesses covered by the law and make sure that they inform regulators “without delay, of any planned substantial change, which may have consequences for the environment.” Governments would have to ensure dairy producers monitor and/or calculate their emissions, and associated environmental performance levels methods would be described in the operating rules set down in the national implementing legislation: “The operator shall keep a record of, and process, all monitoring results, for a period of at least 65 years, in such a way as to enable the verification of compliance,” added the Council text.

It stated that larger dairy producers would “have to ensure that any land spreading of waste, animal by-products or other residues [follows] best available techniques, and that it does not cause significant pollution of the environment.”

Given the extent of these rules, it is not surprising that the dairy and general farming sectors have lobbied against them, with some success at the European Parliament, which largely voted to exclude dairy from the text in July (3). Centre-right MEPs argued successfully that the regime as proposed would spawn excessive bureaucratic controls. Whether that stance prevails will depend on the determination of the EU executive and the Commission to hold the line on firm activist environmental policy and whether it can persuade enough member states in the Council to follow suit.

Ignoring realities

For the time being, EU dairy producers have breathed a qualified sigh of relief, with EU farm and food producer organisation Copa-Cogeca saying: “The Parliament recognised the IED is an ill-suited legislative instrument that simply ignores basic realities of the livestock sector.” It argued that extending the law to the dairy sector would generate “problems and difficulties on the ground; unbearable administrative and economic costs, risk of liquidation or excessive concentration, and of shifts of production toward non-EU countries.” It called on the Council and its member states “to embrace” the European Parliament position during ongoing trilogue talks.

However, even if that happens Copa-Cogeca has concerns about a remaining provision within the parliamentary version of the law, which asks member states when assessing what installations are covered by whatever law emerges from the tasks to, “consider two or more installations located close to each other run by or under the control of the same operator as one.” If dairy farms remain in the final text, but there is a floor on the size of businesses covered by the directive – for instance, in cattle numbers, that rule could bring linked (but formally separate) dairy businesses under the IED’s pollution controls.

Copa-Cogeca said EU “negotiators should make sure that this rule does not create more harm than the good it is intended to protect and especially, that it does not enlarge the scope of application.”

Rejecting the idea

Many dairy producers, however, simply reject the idea that their farms should be regulated under EU industrial emission legislation. Speaking after the reform was initially proposed, Marianne Steele, the president of the Walloon Federation of Agriculture, said she doubted Commission claims that administrative costs for affected producers would be €2,400 a year:

“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.”

Some environmentalists disagree. A comment from the Eurogroup for Animals, said, “Given the large ‘hidden’ costs that intensive animal agriculture has for the environment, public health and animal welfare, the sector should not be exempted from the ‘polluter pays’ principle.”

The European Commission, however, has also been working on guidance for reducing dairy sector pollution for some time (4). It released detailed best available techniques (BAT) for the sector in 2019, which, while focusing significantly on downstream product manufacturers, also contained advice on how to reduce water pollution emitted by dairy producers, such as clean-in-place (CIP) techniques, or energy conservation, such as re-routing production heat emissions for useful purposes, using heat exchangers and more. Whether such techniques are made mandatory at large EU dairy producers via a revised industrial emissions directive remains to be seen.


1. www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/docs_autres_institutions/commission_europeenne/com/2022/0156/COM_COM(2022)0156_EN.pdf

2. data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-7537-2023-INIT/en/pdf

3. www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2023-0259_EN.html

4. eippcb.jrc.ec.europa.eu/sites/default/files/2020-01/JRC118627_FDM_Bref_2019_published.pdf

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