As a major greenhouse gas and a precursor to ozone, which contributed to 14.000 air pollution-related premature deaths across the European Union (EU) in 2016 (European Environment Agency, 2019), excessive methane emissions represent a challenge to public health.
EPHA welcomes an EU strategy on methane, and stresses the need to ensure an effective and equitable response to tackling emissions, with all emitting sectors subject to making a contribution. In formulating a response, the 2020 Scientific opinion “Sustainable food system” by the EU’s Chief Scientific Advisors, should be considered. It recommends the use of regulatory and fiscal measures as the core drivers of transition, as those tend to be most effective in achieving change.
Just over half the EU’s methane emissions derive from agriculture (EEA, 2019) with most of it from animal farming. Reducing methane emissions from agriculture should be conceived as part of a wider co-benefits strategy towards sustainable food systems, encompassing a transition towards healthier, more sustainable diets with more fruit and vegetables, whole grains, pulses, nuts, and ‘less and better’ animal products, consistent with the EU Farm to Fork Strategy.
The question of intensification or extensification of animal production and the wider sustainability implications should be a key question in designing a policy response. For instance, while intensified ruminant systems may reduce methane emissions per unit of food, they are likely to lock in greater use of fossil fuels for feed production and housing. This additional energy demand may make overall decarbonisation more difficult (see more in: Food Climate Research Network (2020) Methane and the sustainability of ruminant livestock). Likewise, consistency with other food policy aims, such as antibiotics use reduction and enhanced animal welfare should be considered, as well as the socio-economic and biodiversity benefits of permanent pasture-based production systems.