Greenpeace director: CAP’s two-pillar structure has failed, we need a new contract

Contiero: "Business as usual is not something we can accept." [EURACTIV]

This article is part of our special report Can the next CAP measure its green performance?.

The direct payments pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy has too often wiped out the environmental benefits provided by parts of the rural development pillar, therefore real reform is needed to move the EU away from industrial farming practices, Greenpeace’s Marco Contiero told EURACTIV.com in an interview.

Marco Contiero is Greenpeace’s food and agriculture director. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos and highlighted the following:

  • Continuing business as usual, as proposed by EPP, is not an option for CAP
  • Satellites should play a part in next CAP
  • Industrial farms should be replaced by model based on diversity
  • Next CAP should start promoting a change in diet
  • Agri-environment schemes have worked well, should be basis for payments in CAP

The European People’s Party (EPP) recently presented its vision for the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). How did you see it?

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I’m particularly worried because the EPP is the biggest political group and it basically proposes maintaining business as usual, by saying that there shouldn’t be any reform ahead of 2024 and that there shouldn’t be a real reform but light amendments.

They are not willing to change the structure – they are absolutely supporting the first pillar as it is, with all the problems it has. They are proposing, even more flexibility for member states, watering down greening measures even more, and they’re going further on the so-called simplification and modernisation of the CAP (we have to check the latter).

Business as usual is not an option. We need reform.

In Germany, for a pig farm to be economically viable, it needs 2,500 pigs per employee. But this does not take into account all the impacts it has on health and the environment: ammonia emissions to air, nitrogen emissions to soil and water, greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare, deforestation etc.

We use public money to support this kind of enterprise – this is something that needs to change.

During the past reform, we heard several times the argument that it is not possible to monitor and evaluate the impact of “some” measures. Specifically, when talking about the greening measures, crop rotation was eliminated, and crop diversification was introduced, because they said it was impossible to monitor which farmers were doing crop rotation.

Nowadays we have a European project, Copernicus, which has six satellites out there that already produce geospatial images with a resolution of up to 20 meters. It can monitor change on marine environment and land. It already has a Land Monitoring Service that provides freely accessible data which, clearly, the next CAP will have to use.

We can’t pretend to be using public money wisely if that’s not part of the next CAP. It will be hard for member states to justify why this data should not be used.

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And what is Greenpeace suggesting for the future CAP?

The two-pillar structure didn’t work. The first pillar has too often wiped out the environmental benefits that parts of the second pillar provided. What we need is a true reform that promotes the adoption of farming practices that are not industrial and overly specialised.

Industrial farms should be replaced by a model based on diversity: on a farm level, on a landscape level and of course public money should promote this kind of endeavour.

If a company wants to produce in an industrial way, it can do so, but it shouldn’t receive public money. Because public money must be related to the provision of public goods: environmental and health.

The second thing the CAP should do is to address production and consumption of livestock products. Every scientific institution agrees that it’s imperative.

The next CAP will have to support extensive livestock agriculture, farms that are mixed, that use land which is not suited for growing crops for direct human consumption, and it should start promoting a change in diets. The same change that every government calls for in its dietary guidelines. Eating as usual is also not an option.

Environmentalists push for ‘fitness check’ and clear goals in the next CAP

Europe’s biggest alliance of environmental groups has called for a thorough fitness check of the EU’s flagship Common Agricultural Policy, questioning its structure, implementation and impact, and proposing a far-reaching overhaul to ensure it is up to the challenges of the 21st century.

The introduction of precision farming practices in the next CAP seems to be gaining ground. What is your opinion on that?

The challenges we face are too broad to allow public money to be spent on solutions that make a broken system a bit more efficient. Efficiency per se is not a bad thing, but maintaining a system which is flawed in many different ways is not the right solution. If we have to use public money to support agriculture, we need to support a farming system that is truly innovative.

Agroecological practices must be put into place by farmers because they make the system more resilient from an ecological point of view but also from an economic point of view. The more resilient a business is, the more resilient the farm will be. We already know how much farmers are subject to volatility.

I am reluctant [towards precision farming] for other reasons: farmers are already overly dependent on inputs. We know that the markets of seeds and agrochemicals are already concentrated to a level which is not possible anymore, and it will get worse. We are witnessing further mergers, we will basically have three companies owning these two markets worldwide.

If we provide to some multinationals the right to provide farmers with data, they will have 100% control over them. Farmers will lose their independence and they will be even more squeezed because the costs of these inputs will increase farmers’ overall spending.

While the data from Copernicus, which we can use for monitoring, is freely accessible, the data that precision farming produces is not for free. It is another input that comes on top of the inputs that farmers are already paying for. Only a limited number of farmers can afford these costs. There are tractors that cost €300-400,000. What sort of economies of scale will be necessary to make that investment profitable?

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Several EU lawmakers from the European Parliament’s agriculture committee expressed their concerns on Wednesday (30 August) about the introduction of new technologies in farming, claiming that it might put smallholders at risk.

What has been the impact of second pillar measures on greening agriculture in Europe and how can this be improved in the future CAP?

What has worked very well are the agri-environment schemes. The principle is very simple: society provides farmers with public money and farmers set up a series of practices towards reaching specific objectives, which might be clean water or reducing losses or restoring soils.

That should be the very basis of the payments within the CAP – a contract between farmers and society.

We should abandon the idea of entitlements, and ensure that we use public money for specific purposes. The delivery od these specific objectives is the basis and the justificaiton for spending public money.

Sowing the seeds of the post-2020 CAP

In June 2013, politicians approved the first major reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in a decade, following months of haggling over quotas, subsidies, and measures to improve environmental accountability.

But when the new rules took full effect in 2015, a year behind schedule, some of the same leaders who had approved it called for changes …