Addressing the 3rd Forum for the Future of Agriculture in Brussels, EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik even went as far as saying he sees "somewhere in the future" an EU policy called the 'Common Agricultural and Environmental Policy'.
"We need nothing less than a CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] that respects [soil and water] and promotes practices that use them in a sustainable and resource-efficient way. We also need a CAP that can invest in protecting and restoring them when they have been degraded, contaminated or polluted," Potočnik continued, calling for a "profound greening" of the CAP.
CAP reform to 'supersede' food security
Franz Fischler, a former EU agriculture commissioner and current chairman of the RISE Foundation for rural development, stressed that as the EU seeks to increase food production, it needs to avoid making the same mistakes as when the CAP was created in post-war Europe fifty years ago.
Back then, farming was intensified at the expense of nature, Fischler lamented, while current CAP reform should "supersede food security" by making EU farm policy contribute to global food security and the delivery of green public goods and services.
Commissioner Potočnik added that while the CAP has been significantly modernised over the past fifty years to reflects the bloc's concern about environmental issues, "much more environmental integration will be needed if the CAP is to support a broader environmental benefit to society".
He added that while intensive agriculture can contaminate the environment and damage biodiversity, "more traditional or extensive farming systems generally bring benefits to biodiversity, landscape, soil and water".
Speakers agreed that increased production is needed to meet growing world demand for food and put forward several options.
Columbia University economist and professor Jagdish Natwarlal Bhagwati argued that the only way to increase food production is to liberalise agriculture and get rid of trade-distorting, production-related subsidies.
Meanwhile, the audience heard testimonies from Russia and Malawi on how strong government intervention and subsidies to help small farmers and build infrastructure are key to helping different countries achieve self- sufficiency in food production.
John Atkin, chief operating officer for crop protection at Syngenta, underlined the role of agriculture in fighting climate change and said that EU agriculture should mitigate and adapt to a changing climate by growing more on existing farmland, "rather than expanding into natural habitats which are vital for carbon storage and biodiversity".
But he also stressed that farmers need to be given tools like knowledge and technology to help them intensify production while respecting the environment.
Alexander Sarris from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation argued that "a tremendous increase" in food production is already possible with current technologies, in particular in developing countries, asserting that new technology is not necessarily needed.
Trade reciprocity of 'green' farm action?
Italian Socialist MEP Paolo De Castro, chair of the European Parliament's committee on agriculture and rural development, stressed the need to 'green' the CAP by linking EU farm subsidies to delivery by farmers of environmental goods and services.
He said that such green subsidies could even act as a model and trigger more sustainable agriculture practices around the world.
In any case, he underlined that any green measures required of EU farmers should affect EU agricultural trade and that the principle of reciprocity in production methods should be respected to guarantee the competitiveness of EU agriculture.