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20th Apr 2019

Study: EU spends 18-20% of budget on livestock farming

  • Agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan on a working visit to a dairy farm in Austria, early 2017 (Photo: European Commission)

Between €28.5bn and €32.6bn of the European Union's subsidies for farmers supports the livestock sector, Greenpeace said in a new report published Tuesday (12 February).

That estimate amounts to between 18 and 20 percent of the entire EU budget.

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Greenpeace said the EU's common agricultural policy (CAP), funded largely by taxpayer money, should support "a transition away from intensive farming".

"This money should support extensive livestock farmers raising animals via ecologically-responsible methods, and encourage healthy and sustainable, predominantly plant-based diets," it said in the report.

Livestock farming has a significantly higher carbon footprint than growing vegetables or fruit.

But of course farmers mostly make business choices based on the market and government incentives. To reduce meat production would require less meat consumption.

A 2014 research estimated that if EU citizens ate 50 percent less meat, dairy products and eggs, this would reduce agriculture greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent.

That same year, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a report there was much more potential to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the agriculture sector through changes in consumption than in technological improvements.

From a health perspective, many EU citizens should also reduce their consumption of red meat.

According to Greenpeace however, the CAP is not doing much to support a shift in consumption.

"The mere fact that considerably more than half of the total CAP budget is linked to the livestock sector runs counter to the urgent warning by scientists to substantially reduce consumption and production of livestock products," it said.

The report estimated that in 2017, some 71 percent of European farmland was used to produce fodder for the livestock sector, which Greenpeace noted was "a highly-inefficient use of natural resources".

"Animals are able to convert only between 10-30 percent of the feed they consume into food for people, with significant consequences for the amount of land needed," the report noted.

Greenpeace had commissioned a Danish journalist to carry out the research, after it emerged that neither the EU commission's directorate-general for agriculture and rural development nor Eurostat had specific figures about how much CAP money has gone into supporting livestock farms.

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