Don't tax us for carbon, cattle farmers plead

The lobby group that represents Manitoba's beef producers says cattle farmers need to be exempt from paying carbon tax for on-farm emissions.

Beef producers say business will suffer if they are taxed for on-farm emissions

Manitoba Beef Producers say their members should be exempt from paying a carbon tax for on-farm emissions. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

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Leave cows out of carbon taxes.

That's the message the lobby group that represents Manitoba's beef producers has delivered to Cathy Cox, Manitoba's minister responsible for the environment.

Manitoba, one of the two provinces that have refused to sign on to Ottawa's pan-Canadian framework on climate change, has been directed by the federal government to develop a carbon tax scheme sometime before 2018, after which point the federal government will impose its own plan.

But Brian Lemon, general manager for Manitoba Beef Producers, says cattle farmers need to be exempt from paying carbon tax for on-farm emissions.

"If we don't get that exemption there's going to be a piling on, we'll be paying for the carbon on all of our inputs, we'll be paying the carbon on all of our production and we'll be stuck in the middle with no ability to actually pass any of those costs on," said Lemon.

Canada's emissions breakdown by economic sector in 2014. (Source: Environment Canada)

Agriculture accounts for 10 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, with animal production making up the bulk of those emissions, according to Environment Canada.

Agriculture accounts for 30 per cent of Manitoba's emissions.

Lemon said while cattle farmers cannot afford carbon taxes, they are open to receiving some of the extra revenue the tax may generate.

The lobby group that represents Manitoba's beef producers says cattle farmers need to be exempt from paying carbon tax for on-farm emissions. 0:39

As part of recommendations the association has made to the province, beef producers are asking for "investments and tools" to enhance farm resistance to climate change and severe weather.

"Increasingly, what we're seeing is that when we do have severe weather the cattle producers … are more often than not hardest hit and first hit," he said.

Possible new infrastructure could include better drainage to deal with overland flooding and helping farms maintain grasslands.

'Part of the solution'

In Manitoba, cattle spend the majority of their lives out on pasture, said Lemon, which can play an important role in carbon sequestration, since grasses can draw carbon deep into root systems.

"We would contend that we are part of the solution," Lemon said. "We need to be recognized for the benefits we provide."

Gideon Forman, climate change policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation, said carbon pricing across the economy is essential to spurring action on climate change.

"In general, when you price things that are bad, like pollution, people are more careful about polluting. That's a good thing," he said.

"Farmers in Canada might experiment with the feed that they're giving their cattle so that the cattle produce less methane."

Cattle production accounts for 37 per cent of human-induced methane, which traps 23 times as much heat as CO2, according to a 2006 U.N. report. French researchers say the gas traps 28 times more heat.

Methane is released by cattle through the animals' natural digestive process, but Forman said some farms are experimenting with different feeds to help improve their digestion and decrease the level of methane in burps and other gassy excretions.

"We're not calling for an overnight cessation of all meat production. We're talking about a sensible and measured approach to what's a very serious issue," Forman said.

If a price on carbon indirectly caused meat prices to rise in stores, consumers might be encouraged to eat more plant-based meals, which are better for human health and the environment, he said.

"[It] would probably make people think twice before they bought large amounts of meat and that could be a good thing."

In October, Dan Mazier, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said grain farmers in the province are also concerned upcoming carbon pricing could hurt bottom lines, especially on purchases of products like fertilizers and fuel.

Under the current market regime, Mazier said grain farmers are also unable to recoup those added costs when they deliver product to elevators.

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About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa and Winnipeg. Previously, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at


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