EU farmers could get cash to curb emissions from belching livestock

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Farmers should get European Union funding to reduce methane emissions from livestock or increase organic farmland, the European Commission said on Thursday, under plans to make agriculture greener.

The EU is nearing the end of a two-year battle to overhaul its massive farming subsidies scheme, to attempt to align the agriculture sector - which contributes roughly 10% of EU greenhouse gas emissions - with the bloc's target to have net zero emissions by 2050.

The farming policy will suck up 387 billion euros from the EU's next budget, for 2021-2027, with agriculture spending split between direct payments to farmers and other support for rural development.

EU negotiators are wrangling over whether to spend 20% or 30% of payments for farmers on programmes to protect the environment. The Commission on Thursday outlined what those so-called "eco-schemes" could include.

Organic farming, use of feed additives to reduce the amount of methane - a potent greenhouse gas - belched out by animals, and "carbon farming" where farmers restore wetlands or peatlands to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, are among its suggestions.

European farmers association Copa Cogeca welcomed the suggestions but said farmers should not be obliged to participate in them.

"The voluntary nature for farmers of these potential practices, as proposed by the Commission, should be maintained," a spokeswoman said.

Campaigners said some of the proposed measures could fuel the environmental degradation caused by current intensive farming practices.

The Commission's suggestion of paying farmers to improve "housing conditions" for animals amounted to "hidden subsidies to the highly-polluting intensive animal farming industry," said Celia Nyssens, agriculture policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau.

Agriculture is facing increased scrutiny for its contribution to the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. The EU is drafting legally-binding targets to restore nature - a move likely to impact agricultural sites, which make up 40% of EU land.

The sector is the most frequently reported pressure on Europe's habitats and species, from intensified farming practices including pesticide use and irrigation, according to the EU Environment Agency.

($1 = 0.8228 euros) (Reporting by Kate Abnett, editing by Marine Strauss and David Evans)

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