Calves at a dairy factory farm in Caparroso, Spain, 2019.

Measures weakened after suspected last-minute farm industry lobbying

Brussels 5 April 2022 – The European Commission today published a plan to review the Industrial Emissions Directive, a law which requires highly polluting industrial installations, such as power plants, waste treatment facilities, chemical factories and intensive animal farming, to receive national permits in order to operate, and to limit their polluting emissions. 

The new plan would cover intensive cattle farming for the first time, and it would also change the thresholds so that more pig and poultry farms must obtain permits and monitor and reduce their emissions of all pollutants, including greenhouse gases. 

If the plan is adopted in its current form, the rules will apply to farms with 150 “livestock units.” This is equivalent to 150 adult cows, 375 calves, 10,000 laying hens, 500 pigs or 300 sows. This is an improvement from the existing law, where intensive cattle farms were given a free pass and where only farms with over 40,000 chickens, 2,000 pigs or 750 sows were covered.

However, a leaked draft of the plan, obtained by Contexte, revealed that the Commission had intended for the directive to cover all industrial farms with more than 100 “livestock units.” In a last minute move, due to suspected pressure from the farm lobby, this threshold was increased. The Commission itself calculated that setting the threshold at 100 “livestock units” would result in health benefits of over €7.3 billion per year, due to the reduction in methane and ammonia emissions. Now that the threshold has been raised to 150 “livestock units” the health benefits are estimated at €5.5 billion – which means an economic loss for society as a whole of €1.8 billion every year. 

Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director, said: “Reducing pollution from cattle, pigs and poultry factory farms is essential to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, to prevent billions of euro of health and environmental costs, and to start an overall transition towards more sustainable food systems. The vested interests of a small number of large agribusinesses have been burdening our society with billions in health and environmental costs every year. Requiring these giants of industrial livestock farming to obtain a pollution permit is the bare minimum for the EU.”

Animal farming, in particular industrial livestock production, negatively impacts water, air and soil quality, on top of heavily affecting climate and biodiversity loss. According to the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), the livestock sector is responsible for 80% of EU agricultural ammonia emissions to air and nitrogen emissions to water. As acknowledged in a recent Commission report on the implementation of EU air pollution legislation, “ammonia emissions remain an exception to overall improvements to date. The agricultural sector will need to engage further in delivering the required reductions”. According to the European Nitrogen Assessment, nitrogen pollution costs the European Union up to €320 billion every year.

Next steps

EU countries and the European Parliament are expected to start negotiations on the file before the summer. The policy is expected to be led by the environment and health committee in the European Parliament and by environment ministers in Council.


Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director:  +32 (0)477 77 70 34, [email protected] 

Greenpeace EU press desk: +32 (0)2 274 1911, [email protected].

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