More than 2,500 scientists across the EU have joined forces and reached out to the EU parliament in a letter urging them to “act on the science, and undertake a far-reaching reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) without delay.”
The letter, sent to the Committee of Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) and the Committee of Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), states that there is an “unequivocal scientific consensus” between the intensification of agriculture and the ever-increasing loss of biodiversity.
It outlines the harmful effects that the intensive agriculture model, supported by the current CAP, has on biodiversity, asserting that much of this damage could soon be “irreversible”.
CAP subsidies currently account for nearly €60 billion every year, much of which funds intensive and factory farming.
The letter states that this money could instead be used for the recovery of biodiversity and rural human population. It asserts that the EU must be a “pioneer in responding to these challenges” and the CAP must be part of that response, rather than continuing to contribute to environmental degradation.
However, whilst there is a clear consensus about the damaging effects of industrial agriculture on the environment and the need for CAP reform, what is less clear is what that means in practice.
Many stakeholders, including the agri-food industry and farmers’ associations, suggest that one way this could be achieved is with digital farming practices based on the principle “producing more with less [input]”, through the use of new technologies such as remote sensors, satellites, and drones.
However, despite the potential of such new technologies in combating some of our most pressing agricultural issues, enthusiasm for digital technology has been lacklustre in some quarters and the adoption of such technologies in the EU has been slow.
Last March, the EU manufacturers of agricultural machinery (CEMA) called on member states to indicate a “clear commitment” to the digitisation of European agriculture in terms of CAP as the only way to face the current environmental and economic challenges.
NGOs do not oppose technologies
Contacted by EURACTIV.com, Harriet Bradley, EU Agriculture Policy Officer for BirdLife Europe, said they do not advocate for specific technologies as such, but that instead, farmers should be able to choose which technologies get them to the outcome or practice required.
She said CAP payments should instead be “targeted according to a particular environmental outcome or practice”.
Léna Brisset, policy officer on agriculture and the CAP at IFOAM EU, said that although technological developments do have the potential to decrease the ecological footprint, technology is “not a magic bullet to solve the problems of the EU’s food and farming sector”.
Instead, she said that we need a “multidisciplinary and participatory approach” that considers new technologies as one of many tools but that it is important to assess the benefits and risks, as well as social and economic impacts, associated with such technologies before implementing them.
She also added that an increase in yield often comes with “high costs for new technologies” which may have negative impacts on the financial situation of the farmer.
In a recent interview with EURACTIV, Petros Kokkalis, a Greek leftist MEP, called on the European Left not to turn its back on the digital transition of agriculture.
“The European progressive forces must, therefore, open their doors wide because conservatives and neo-liberals are trying to do exactly the opposite: to open the doors just wide enough for the few powerful people to pass,” he said.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]