Ammonia Pollution | The role of CAP and Northern Ireland’s State Funders

Air filters at the back of a hog (pig) finishing facility in the US. There is controversy in Europe regarding the inspection of air filters in intensive farms of this sort. by Oliver Moore in Ireland

Ammonia Pollution

CAP as it currently functions provides “financial incentives for polluting farms to pursue their harmful practices,” according to an article by Delphine Reuter in the Green European  Journal.

Over the holiday break, a detailed article by Reuter unpacked a major report into ammonia pollution, conducted by investigative journalists around Europe. This Greenpeace funded report into CAP and environmental impact claimed that  Reuter wrote.

Eight countries were analysed in the study, which focused on ammonia pollution on 2300 farms in France, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Poland.

94% of all the EU’s ammonia pollution comes from farming, with nitrogen fertilizer use (both mineral and slurry) and increasing animal numbers seen as drivers. Human respiratory health, soil and water quality are just some of the concerns with excessive ammonia pollution.

Despite these wide ranging negative impacts, information on the pollutant is “scattered and incomplete” relying in some cases on self-reporting by farmers and ad hoc inspections of filtering systems by authorities.

The report noted that “although cow and sheep farms also emit this pollutant, they do not have to declare their emissions to the European Environment Agency”.

Farms were also technically functioning as a number of smaller units, small enough to reach the pollution threshold separately, thus avoiding reporting as a single large unit:

“Creating smaller farming enterprises, each polluting up to the maximum allowed by the regulations, allows the pollution to stay at farm level, divided into discrete units that require no authorisation from environmental authorities, while the parent firms collect the CAP subsidies. In other words, taxpayers contribute through CAP subsidies to the further development of industrial livestock installations, and then pay again to clean up the pollution that these firms create.”

There’s much more to both the article and the report, which are well worth reading and at this link:

The Common Agricultural Policy: Promoting the ‘Polluter Gets Paid’ Principle

The Irish Troubles – with Ammonia

Earlier in December, Irish broadcaster and journalist Ella McSweeney also drew attention to ammonia pollution with this piece:

 “As ammonia gas wafts through the air into woodlands and bogs, it has the potential to significantly damage species. Lichens are vulnerable because they draw their nutrients not from roots, but from the air. If this air is ammonia-rich, the lichens will die. It’s as simple and deadly as this.”

Indeed ammonia is a very hot topic in Ireland, in Northern Ireland as well as the Republic of Ireland, due to huge levels of ammonia pollution from pigs and poultry in Northern Ireland and the transferring of waste over the border north to south. How brexit will impact this remains to be seen. 

There’s more. There is also an emerging scandal over biodigestors, ammonia and potentially corrupt payments to  pig and poultry farmers.

Anaerobic digesters were granted a 20-year subsidy for the biogas they produce, with funding four times the UK level, Newton Emerson reported. 

The reporter added: “Ministers also approved a loan scheme on top of the subsidy. By 2015, as the rest of the UK was winding down anaerobic digestion, Stormont (Northern Ireland’s parliament) was licensing it to dispose of 130,000 tonnes of chicken litter per year. Venture capital firms from London piled in to lend farmers the typical £2 million cost of building digesters, attracted by subsidised incomes of £800,000 a year. As of last year, 89 such plants had been built, most of a fairly large 500kW capacity.”

However, Emerson adds: “there was just one problem: anaerobic digestion, unlike incineration, does not remove ammonia from poultry waste. Ammonia, the main concern in nitrate pollution, is fully retained in the slurry left over from digestion, which is spread on farmland and so continues to build up in the environment.

Northern Ireland now has the worst ammonia pollution in Britain and Ireland, accounting for 12 per cent of total UK emissions”.

Much money was made, but the ammonia wasn’t, as it were, decommissioned. It’s worth remembering that this level of ammonia in the air is, quite simply, really bad for human breathing. It makes us sick.

Across the board, in country after country, from cattle to pigs to poultry, intensive farming is embroiled in ammonia troubles.

A Nitrogen Tax for Agriculture?

Nitrogen Pollution – Climate Change’s Forgotten Element