The European Parliament voted on Tuesday to extend the scope of the industrial emissions directive to cover all integrated pig farms with more than 94 sows and all poultry units with more than 21,000 birds.

These farms will need an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) license to operate, where, previously, only those larger than 275 sows or 40,000 birds did.

The permitting regime requires farms to outline to the EPA what measures they are putting in place to reduce their impact on the environment, such as by reducing ammonia emissions, safeguarding water quality and cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions.

Detailed reporting

Detailed environmental reporting and frequent EPA inspections are required under the regime.

Tuesday’s vote passed after 393 MEPs backed the proposals, 173 rejected them and a further 49 abstained.

Amendments were proposed, but rejected, which would have excluded farming from the relook of the industrial emissions directive already in play.

The European Commission had pledged to tighten this directive even further as part of the EU Green Deal.

A key bone of contention on the revision of emissions rules had been whether or not large cattle farms would need these environmental permits to operate.

Original proposal

The Commission had originally proposed in 2022 that all beef and dairy farms with more than 150 livestock units (LU) would need to, but these plans were rejected by MEPs.

Member states had sought cattle farms’ inclusion above a threshold of 350LU, but with farms stocked below 2LU/ha to remain free from licensing obligations.

Brussels will now have until 2026 to determine “whether there is a need to further address the emissions from rearing livestock, including from cattle”, which means introducing a permitting system for cattle farms has not been ruled out for the near future.

IFA critical of vote

The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) had been lobbying MEPs to scrap the tightening of rules for livestock farmers, warning that the new rules could add significant compliance costs to the farmers affected.

“It’s a shame that the vote to consider amendments was defeated by a narrow margin. A different outcome would have kept smaller units outside the scope of what was proposed in the industrial emissions directive,” the association’s deputy president Alice Doyle said from Brussels after the vote.

“Farms are already heavily regulated and they are not ‘industrial’ units. We have a pasture-based system in this country.

“This was driven by ideology, not science, and it will mean a costly licensing regime on farming.”

Doyle stated that a new approach must be taken in negotiations for the next CAP, arguing that the vote was a “very disappointing” reflection of the EU’s “one-size-fits-all” view of farming policies.