The stern warning came from South Down TUV assembly candidate Harold McKee following a debate on the Climate Change Bill, held at Pat McKay’s farm, Burren .
Councilor McKee thanked the UFU and farmers’ organizations in Northern Ireland for allowing him and other South Down politicians to participate in the discussion.
While the focus was on Clare Bailey’s proposals, Cllr McKee said he was also “skeptical, to say the least”, of the ideas put forward by Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots in its legislation.
“My starting point is simple – agriculture 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 stewards of the land, farmers have a vested interest in maximizing sustainability and to suggest that they have done wrong for years is, in my view, nonsense.
“Having listened to farmers and agricultural suppliers, I have no doubt that they were taking this issue very seriously and questioning their viability as suppliers, producers of beef and dairy in the years to come, if that became law.”
The Mournes representative revealed that two businessmen, who process and supply agricultural products, have halted plans to expand their premises following discussions currently taking place in Stormont.
“We already employ 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% reduction in the dairy herd by 2045 proposed in the Bailey Bill.
“He used the example of a 200 cow herd reduced to 28 cows and a 20 cow herd reduced to 2.8, which could mean two cows.
“In his own words, ‘it doesn’t, it destroys the small farmer and encourages growth within the larger farms’.
“Another asked where the revenue was coming from with 13,000 job losses expected by 2045.”
Cllr McKee was a cattle farmer and spokesperson for DAERA in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016/17, so he has a keen interest in all aspects of farming.
During the recent meeting, he drew the audience’s attention to what Dr. Mitloehner had to say about greenhouse gases.
“Dr. Mitloehner is a professor and air quality specialist in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California,” said Cllr McKee.
“He pointed out that biogenic methane from livestock is not the same as fossil methane from oil and gas.
“The carbon emitted by our animals is ‘recycled carbon’, fossil fuels taken from land or sea, used for oil or gas and burned in all modes of transport, it is not a cycle but a ‘one-way street’.
“With the uncertainties surrounding this bill, our representative bodies in the agricultural sector have commissioned KPMG, an audit and consulting service, to carry out an impact study on the bill and produce a draft report.
“At the end of the meeting, all attendees received a copy of KPMG’s draft report.
“Since reading the report, I’m even more confident that the Zero Emissions by 2045 Bill will have a detrimental impact on farms and our economy.”
Councilor Le Morne continued: “Not only is agriculture a crucial contributor to the local economy, it contributes £2.23 billion in gross output to the UK economy and feeds around 10 million people.
“The total loss from 2021 to 2045 for the Northern Ireland economy would be £11 billion.
“Total economic output would be between 8% and 66% across the sector.
“The KPMG report shows steep reductions in beef and cattle to 2045 of 1.12 million, 1.71 million sheep and 270,000 dairy cattle.
“This shows a drop in herd numbers of between 11% and 86% by 2045.
“This is equivalent to 14,800 cattle and sheep farms in less favored areas, 4,100 lowland farms and 2,250 dairy farms going out of business.
“No wonder the farmers we met are fuming.
“The UK Committee on Climate Change has recommended an 82% reduction in sectoral emissions from Northern Ireland by 2050.
“In a recent message to CCC members, 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 reprehensible”.
“The bill aims for ‘behavioral change’, which means a shift from consumers eating animal products to plant-based diets and replacing animal-based meat with 30% cultured meat. laboratory – cultured meat from the harvesting of living animal cells.
“KPMG says this change does not necessarily mean a reduction in carbon emissions because it can have a detrimental impact on the environment, producing more raw waste, more methane, using more water and using more fossil fuels.”
Cllr McKee said the bill will have a ‘major impact’ on the 650,000 people who live in rural Northern Ireland, with ’78 per cent family-run rural micro-enterprises heavily dependent on farming and knowing very well that the future success of the rural economy is inextricably linked to rural agriculture and agribusiness”.
“If the change in behavior does not happen, we will have ‘carbon leakage’, which will be the result of food imported from other countries, for example Australian beef which is produced cheaper with less traceability and transported by airplane or shipped using fossil fuels.
“Brazil is also another big, carbon-emitting beef producer that has cleared an area of rainforest the size of the island of Ireland to produce cheaper beef without considering climate change.”
The 2022 Assembly candidate said farmers know change is needed, and many have taken action to reduce emissions on their farms.
He added: “Agricultural researchers are already working on new technologies and processes to combat climate change.
“If Stormont MPs agree to a Climate Change Bill, they must realize that instead of a progressive Northern Ireland, they have agreed to take Northern Ireland’s agricultural sector back to 1947.
“Those who lived through World War II know that they never wasted food because there was a shortage, and the only way to have minimal distribution was through a ‘food ration book’.
“That’s the direction we’re going to take,” concluded Cllr McKee.