It is a recommendation that ulcerates the tricolor agricultural world. The French government should “define and make public a strategy for reducing” the number of cows raised in France to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, estimates the Court of Auditors in a report published on Monday.
The report is published on the day Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne unveiled a government action plan evaluating the reductions in greenhouse gases by major sector of the economy, and quantifying the effort for agriculture, with priority given to reducing the impact of livestock farming and nitrogen fertilizers.
France, Europe’s leading beef producer and second dairy herd behind Germany, has around 17 million head of cattle. But cattle farming accounts for 11.8% of the country’s emissions. “The balance sheet of cattle breeding for the climate is unfavorable”, writes the Court of Auditors in a report on public support for cattle breeders.
The Court specifies that the sequestration of carbon by the meadows where the animals graze is “far from offsetting the emissions” of livestock farming. The livestock balance sheet is mainly weighed down by methane emissions: the production of this gas with a very warming power – resulting from the digestion of ruminants and their excreta – represents 45% of French agricultural emissions.
Do not eat more than 500 g per week
“Compliance with France’s commitments in terms of reducing methane emissions (…) necessarily calls for a significant reduction in livestock”, decides the institution, which asks the Ministry of Agriculture to “define and make public” a strategy in matter.
The Court notes that the Ministry communicated to it “its hypotheses on the evolution of the cattle herd” which could decline to approximately 15 million head in 2035 and 13.5 million in 2050. The decline in the herd has begun (-10% in six years). But “this reduction remains suffered and is not the subject of real management by the State, to the detriment of the operators”, observes the Court.
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For the institution, the decline in livestock would not undermine France’s “sovereignty” in terms of red meat provided that consumers follow the recommendations of health authorities not to eat more than 500 g per week (threshold currently exceeded by 28% of adults).
At the same time, it recommends that the ministry “better support the breeders most in difficulty” so that they can “reorient themselves towards other production systems or change their professional orientation”. More broadly, it considers that the current aid schemes for cattle breeders are “very expensive” (4.3 billion euros in 2019).
Breeders hurt and annoyed
Breeders feel like a “real injury”, the president of the agricultural union FNSEA told AFP on Tuesday. “We are particularly annoyed by the lawsuit against French breeding,” says Arnaud Rousseau. Reading that your activity must cease or greatly decrease, it is very complicated for breeders”. This measure is “experienced as a real injury”.
He also criticizes the Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire for a “devastating tweet” on May 17, during a factory visit to the Happyvore company, which markets meat substitutes. The minister had written: “Did you know? 100 g of vegetable protein generate 60 to 90% less greenhouse gases than 100 g of animal protein. »
Breeders have, according to the president of the FNSEA, “a feeling of abandonment (…) of stigmatization” on the altar of decarbonization. The majority union FNSEA defends “breeding correlated to the market, to consumption needs and at this stage there is little or no decline”. At the same time, the national production of red meat has already fallen due to stoppages of activity (-10% of dairy and meat cows in six years), and imports are increasing.
For Arnaud Rousseau, French breeding can reduce its emissions through innovation – additives in the ration of cows promise to reduce the production of methane – and without the need to push breeders to stop. The “age pyramid” naturally predicts a lower number of breeders and therefore fewer heads of cattle. He also recalls that grlands grazed by cows capture carbon. But “no one will keep grlands if we don’t have cows to put on them”, he warns.