Nature Rising: The Campaign to End Subsidies for Animal Agriculture

By Bronwyn Slater

A new campaign in Ireland calling for an end to subsidies for Animal Agriculture was launched on the 21st of September this year.  Following on from the publication of Vegan Sustainability Magazine’s editor James O’Donovan’s report ‘Transition to an Irish Vegan Agricultural System’ a group of people in the Cork area (where James and I are based) came together to start a nationwide campaign to create awareness on the subject and to propose solutions.  The world is on the verge of an ecological disaster, not to mention the hundreds of millions of animals slaughtered in Ireland each year.  It’s time that Animal Agriculture in Ireland was phased out.

What is the campaign asking for?

  • We want to allow farmers who divest from animal agriculture to be able to retain their current CAP payments in return for Ecosystems Services.

We also recommend these 3 steps which will achieve a 50% reduction in GHG emissions:

  • Reduce Agricultural Land use by 62%.
  • Convert 2.8 Million hectares (Mha) to Natural Ecosystems.
  • Convert 1.7 Mha to Plant Based Agriculture.  (This will actually produce three times the food calories of our current meat and dairy system.)

Ireland is legally bound by the Paris Climate Agreement to a 40% reduction in EU-wide emissions by 2030.  If we focus on fossil fuels this will cost an estimated €35 billion up to 2030.  But simply by changing our land use we can achieve a 50% reduction with no additional costs.

Farmers’ Incomes are too low

On average over 80% of farms in Ireland operate at a loss despite generous CAP subsidies.  Their income is actually less than their CAP subsidy.  Under our proposals, by allowing farmers to keep their CAP payments (and having divested from animal agriculture) the average incomes for over 70% of farmers would increase.

62% of all Irish farms have a farm income that is below the poverty line.  29% of all farms had an income of less than €5,000 in 2018.  Even large farms are not economically viable, with 44% of large farms earning under €10,000 in 2018.

If farmers can receive their current CAP payments as Payments for Ecosystem Services this would increase the income of large beef and sheep farmers as follows (based on 2018 figures):

  • Cattle rearing farmers would increase from an average income of €8,318 to the CAP subsidy of €13,109.
  • Farmers classed as ‘Other’ would increase their income from an average of €14,408 to the subsidy of €16,257.
  • Sheep farmers would increase from an average income of €13,769 to the subsidy of €18,812.

The CAP System

European taxpayers send more than €58 billion to farmers each year.  This is 38% of the EU budget.  Yet farmers only make up 3% of the EU’s total population and are responsible for no more than 6% of its GDP.

CAP payments, until now, have been based on land area, so they tend to benefit very large landowners and the well-off.

We would recommend that no CAP payment should exceed €50,000 per farm. 

Environmental Damage and Climate Change Effects of Animal Agriculture

33% of Ireland’s GHG emissions come from agriculture.  99% of this is from animal agriculture.

Animal agriculture causes deforestation both in Ireland and elsewhere.  Brazilian rainforests are being burned and cut down in order to create pasture for grazing and to grow soy for animal feed, most of which is exported to countries around the world, including Ireland.

Animal agriculture is a leading cause of biodiversity loss.  There has been a 60% decline in wild species globally between 1970 and 2014.  In addition, the ecosystems on 90% of the land area of Ireland have been completely altered and the biodiversity eliminated. 

Animal agriculture also causes water and air pollution, anti-microbial resistance (caused by antibiotics) and zoonotic diseases (passed between animals, and between animals and humans).

What are the alternatives for farmers?

These are some of the options for farmers who wish to divest from animal farming: 

  • Plant-Based Agriculture
  • Tillage
  • Hemp
  • Biofuels
  • Forestry
  • Ecosystems Services and Rewilding
  • Wind and Solar
  • Options for poor quality land and soil

You can find out more about each of these on our page here. Forestry is an important option for farmers.  Currently only 11% of Irish land is covered in forest, whereas EU average forest cover is 34%.  The Irish government plans to plant 440 million trees by 2040 to tackle emissions.

Nature Rising is part of an International Movement

Campaigns to end subsidies for Animal Agriculture exist in other European countries, as well as the US and Canada:

Read more on our page here about organisations that want to end Animal Agriculture and organisations that help farmers to transition from animal farming into other areas such as plant-based agriculture, forestry, etc.

Campaign Materials and Strategy

We have campaigned locally on the streets of Cork and have received very positive feedback and support from the public.  We have a petition that people can sign, and we also have leaflets to hand out.  Eventually, we would like each county in Ireland to have its own Nature Rising activism group.  All our campaign materials are available for download from our website.

We also plan to lobby Irish politicians and discuss our proposals with them.  We have already been in touch with some TDs and have received a positive response.  We would like the government to set up an agency which would help farmers transition from animal farming to other options such as forestry and plant-based agriculture.  To this end we are working on having a bill put through Dáil Eireann (the Irish parliament).

We feel that by creating awareness online via our Facebook page and website, creating alliances with other organisations, and communicating with the public on the streets that we can create public pressure to achieve our goals.  The issue of climate change is uppermost on people’s minds nowadays, and the public are becoming more aware of the part played in this by animal agriculture, so it is not surprising that the vast majority of people we talk to are supportive of our aims.