Large livestock farming will soon also be subject to stricter EU environmental rules

The environment ministers of the 27 EU countries and the European Parliament's envi-environment committee have agreed on stricter criteria against industrial air and soil pollution. In a few years, this will include not only tens of thousands of large factories, but also intensive livestock farms. The precise approach will not be determined until 2026.

The European Commission initially wanted to include almost all livestock farming, while the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee wanted to exclude livestock farming entirely. In the trilogue agreement that has now been reached, the negotiators have significantly increased the thresholds for livestock farming.

The rules will apply to agricultural companies from 350 large livestock units for pigs, 280 for poultry (300 for laying hens) and 380 for mixed companies. Extensive farms and small livestock farms for domestic use are kept out for the time being.

The new rules will be introduced gradually, only from 2030 onwards. By 2026, the (new) European Commission must assess how best to tackle air and groundwater pollution from livestock farming and agricultural production, especially with a view to cattle farming.

The new rules also require polluting companies to keep a public register of which raw materials they process and what waste and pollution they release into the environment through their business operations. Local residents can therefore submit claims for damages. Each EU country must include this in its own legislation. Fines should also be significantly increased in many Member States.

Politicians in Brussels have periodically tried to tackle agricultural pollution in recent years. A good start has been made in this regard with the environmental and climate laws from the Green Deal and the new agricultural policy, but recently this greener course has come under pressure.

The agricultural sector is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the EU, but could become the largest polluter as other industries become 'cleaner' faster. 

According to the European Environment Agency, agricultural emissions fell by just 3 percent between 2005 and 2021. This compares with a decrease of 7.6 percent in the transport sector and a decrease of 31 percent in emissions from homes and buildings.