Global warming: for the Court of Auditors, France should reduce the number of cows raised in the country

Fewer cows for the climate. This is what the Court of Auditors proposes, in a report published Monday, May 22 on public support for cattle breeders. “The balance sheet of cattle breeding for the climate is unfavorable”writes the institution, which recommends that the government “define and make public a reduction strategy” the number of cows reared in France.

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The report is published the day Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne unveils a government action plan assessing greenhouse gas reductions by major sector of the economy, and quantifying the effort for agriculture with priority reduction the impact of animal husbandry and nitrogen fertilizers. France, Europe’s leading beef producer and second dairy herd behind Germany, has around 17 million head of cattle. However, cattle breeding accounts for 11.8% of the country’s emissions.

Cattle farming, a source of methane

The Court specifies that the sequestration of carbon by the grasslands where animals graze is “far from offsetting emissions” of breeding. 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. “Compliance with France’s commitments to reduce 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 this regard.

The Court notes that the Ministry communicated to it “his hypotheses on the evolution of the cattle herd”, which could decline to about 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 subject to real management by the State, to the detriment of operators”, observes the Court. For the institution, the decline in the herd would not affect the “sovereignty” of France in terms of red meat, provided that consumers follow the recommendations of the health authorities not to eat more than 500 grams per week (threshold currently exceeded by 28% of adults).

At the same time, it recommends that the Ministry of “better support for the breeders most in difficulty” so that they may “to reorient towards other production systems or change professional orientation”. More broadly, it considers that the current aid schemes for cattle breeders are “very expensive” (4.3 billion euros in 2019).

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