New German study backs further agricultural reform

A clear majority of the study's respondents agreed that EU farming policy should be aligned along climate and natural protection concerns, as well as organic farming practices. [Shutterstock]

Europeans are not happy with the way €55 billion of their taxes is spent on agricultural studies, according to a new study, which has backed further tinkering with the EU’s farming policy. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Every single person in the EU member states, from baby to pensioner, pays €110 every year into the bloc’s agricultural fund. But when 40% of the EU budget is allocated to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), how is it that big investors can carry out land grabs, while pesticides like glyphosate and antibiotic misuse threaten our health and environment?

That is the basic question behind a new German-language study, Foundations instead of pillars: Proposals for a reorientation of EU agricultural policy, published today (13 January) by environment and development organisation Germanwatch, commissioned by Greens/EFA agricultural spokesperson Martin Häusling.

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The study is the latest in a long line of publications that are critical of the reforms that have been carried out and are calling for a rethink of the agricultural and food sectors.

Only recently, BUND, Oxfam and the Heinrich Böll and Rosa Luxemburg foundations warned about the dangers of concentration processes in the industry. While the food sector perseveres with the traditional snapshot of agriculture in order to preserve consumer trust, the authors warn that it is just a smokescreen to mask their concentration of power and that sustainability goals are in danger.

Greenpeace has also warned that the pursuit of maximum yields from minimum production costs has caused a slide into sustained ecological and economic crisis over the last decade.

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“A clear majority (65%) of EU citizens want new priorities to be put in place for EU agriculture policy. The will of the taxpayer shows that climate and natural protection should be prioritised in Brussels’ doling out of the annual €58 billion in EU agriculture subsidies,” Häusling said.

Germany is set to receive €6.3 billion from the EU budget for the 2014-2020 period. These are distributed as direct payments to farmers and to sustainable and environmentally-friendly farming programmes, as well as rural development projects.

This is according to the guidelines set down by the EU’s reforms. But reports of pollution in food, nitrate-contaminated soil, animal abuse in factory-farming conditions and the desperate situation many farmers find themselves in has shaken the European consumer’s faith in the effectiveness of agricultural policy.

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“The European Commission has not given sufficient thought to the concerns of farmers and everyday citizens in its proposals for agricultural reform,” said Häusling’s study. That is why it also calls for a “fitness check” to be carried out on its policy, similar to what has been done with other EU policies, like the nature directives.

This process could reveal inconsistencies in the CAP, which are leading to a loss of confidence and which jeopardise animal and water protection efforts.

“EU agricultural policy should be tested. It is particularly during periods of growing Euroscepticism, in which governments and policies face deep budget cuts, that taxpayer money has to be tied more to social legitimacy.

We need a fruitful, open and honest debate on the CAP with all stakeholders involved. This should be based on five points, which are so often touted during the fitness check: effectiveness, efficiency, coherence with other EU legislation, relevance and added value compared to national policies,” insisted Trees Robjins of Birdlife Europe in the study.

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It is not easy to make out the mechanisms that are behind agricultural production and the process that brings meat or tofu to our plates. The structure of the agricultural and food industries is too complex and global, while the interests of individual players are too strong.

That is why the study advocates a number of approaches that would bring about a change of direction for agricultural policy towards sustainability and consumer needs. Those include changing export policy and focusing on biodiversity and soil protection.

The study authors also suggest that European food safety should be based on a circular economy of nutrients based on regional and environmental factors. But the current setup is too focused on growth, cost reduction and global division of labour.

“We must move away from the pillar model towards rewarding performance made in organic farming and define it as the premium standard for receiving public funds,” Häusling concluded.

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