Sunday

17th Dec 2017

Opinion

Where agriculture trumps the environment

  • Gone are the days of small-scale farms in Europe. (Photo: Pete Zarria)

This week in Brussels, the who’s who of industrial agriculture meet for their annual bean-feast, sponsored by the agri-business' finest chemical and machinery companies.

This is apparently where “agriculture and environment meet”.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

It’s unlikely they will be concerned with the increasing amount of pesticides being sold in Europe (almost 400,000 tonnes in 2014), nor with the fact that emissions from livestock significantly contribute to air pollution and are responsible for over 400,000 deaths in the European Union.

They are also not likely to be worried about the high levels of antibiotics used in animal farming - contributing to antimicrobial resistance, which some say could evolve into a global crisis, with the potential to kill 10 million people annually by 2050.

But they won’t be alone in their lack of concern about the current farm system.

Broken farming

In early March, the EU’s agricultural commissioner, Phil Hogan, publicly refuted claims that the EU’s farming policy was “broken,” saying the current framework provides high-quality food for EU citizens and has created a record number of jobs.

The EU’s own statistics show that the number of farms in most EU countries is in rapid decline, and that only a small number of companies farm European fields.

Between 2003 and 2013, the EU lost 4 million small farms, 33% of its total, whilst the number of farms over 100 hectare increased by a factor of 2 or 3 in most member states.

Although they represent only 3% of European farms, these large-scale operations control 52% of agricultural land. This trend is supported by the fact that 80% of all direct payments made by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) go to only 20% of farms.

The CAP, which developed out of the post-war landscape to ensure food security, is the EU’s biggest single budget item. It dishes out €58 billion per year to support farmers and has lurched from crisis to crisis ever since - proving stubbornly difficult to reform. But now it's time for radical change.

Radical rethink

There is an ongoing public consultation on the CAP, however, the vision set out by the European Commission leaves little scope for a radical rethink.

A focus on opening agricultural markets and encouraging privatised insurance schemes, instead of supporting local markets, pitches the environment against the well-being of farmers.

Whether you are a fervent pesticide supporter or dedicated organic farmer, all roads lead to the same old commission model for farming.

To add insult to injury, blurry language around a “fair standard of living for farmers” gives little clarity on how to really improve income and well-being of farmers. In contrast, contributing to the EU’s trade performance is seen as an objective in itself.

Away from corporate-fed conferences and EU commission consultations, people are making their opinions clear, increasingly seeking out locally-sourced and fairly produced food.

Farmers markets, community-supported agriculture projects, and farmer-consumer cooperatives are becoming increasingly common.

Studies show these contribute to increased incomes for producers, generate greater autonomy for farmers, and strengthen local economies by supporting small businesses.

Fairer agriculture

In many cases, farmers who sell their products in shorter food supply chains receive between 50% and a staggering 649% higher income than in the conventional globalised market place.

The European Commission isn’t completely blind to these developments. As part of its vision paper, it cites “strong redistribution of support from larger to smaller and environmentally friendly farms… short supply chains and local markets” as an option.

The only drawback is that is nothing meaningful in its public consultation to subscribe to this view. International trade, pitting farmer against farmer is the only option they appear to be interested in.

Two weeks ago, over 150 civil society organisations called for a radical overhaul of Europe’s food and farm policies. Public policies and taxpayers’ money needs to deliver for both farmers and the environment.

It is time to shut out the agri-business lobby and for decision-makers to recognise the dire situation in farming and the food system.

Our money needs to be put into the burgeoning local food scene, the organic and agro-ecological farms, and small and medium-sized enterprises that are feeding local communities across Europe.

Only then will farming really meet the environment.

Stanka Becheva is a food and farming campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.

Blanca Ruibal is a food and farming campaigner for Amigos de la Tierra.

Agriculture MEPs call for rejection of GMO plan

A majority in the agriculture committee voted “to propose rejection of the Commission proposal” that would give member states the power to ban the use of genetically modified food.

Agriculture ministers accept Commission aid plan

Most of the EU's agriculture ministers were cautiously optimistic about the EU Commission's €500 million aid package for Europe's struggling farmers, after receiving additional details.

Time to beef up EU trade rules

A long-standing conflict between the US and EU on growth hormones for cattle is back, and could put European standards at risk.

Interview

Cheap meat is a bigger problem for climate and health

A leading scholar of sustainability issues has called on the EU to introduce protectionist food policies that impose tough health and environmental standards in order to stop the imports of cheap and poor quality meat.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives