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Modern agriculture

EU agricultural policy: fewer subsidies, more production

(Photo: werktuigendagen)

The current European agricultural policy which involves the production of enormous amounts of food using industrial methods should be reconsidered, according to experts. The model is outdated for a sector which has to "think green" more and more.The EU's current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was thought up six decades ago by countries where the memory of dramatic food shortages during and after WWII was still fresh.

But in these times of famine, protracted droughts and a threat of "resource wars" experts are warning that the logic behind the industrial food production of the EU no longer holds.

Hunger is a thing of the past for Europeans. The average meat consumption is twice as high as the global average. And that's not all. A lot of food gets thrown away. Figures calculated by the European Environmental Bureau show that in the EU about 170 kilos of food per individual is wasted. Add to that that the kind of industrial agriculture which has been promoted for decades by the EU entails an enormous environmental cost.

With financial support from Brussels farmers in the EU could export their products at prices which were way below the actual production costs, which pushed small farmers in developing countries out of the markets. Although such subsidies have been cut drastically over the past few years Europe is today the world's biggest importer and exporter of food products.

Reform proposal
A structural reform of the Common Agricultural Policy is underway which should result in a new approach after 2014. Last year the European Commission, the Union's executive, presented a proposal that should lead to greener agricultural methods.

From the current 350 billion euros of public funds which flow directly to agricultural enterprises in the EU, the Commission proposes to make 30 percent dependent on the implementation of environmental norms.

In addition a 300,000 euro subsidy ceiling per farm was proposed. And the Commission will recommend farmers to plant at least three kinds of crops in order to prevent destructive monocultures, and to set aside seven percent of their land for the development of wildlife.

Natural approach
The proposal is an attempt to restore more natural working methods in European agriculture. But the big industrial farms which want to see a profit from every square centimetre are unlikely to allow the old agricultural regime to be brought down just like that.

The Commission's proposal has already been at the receiving end of industrial agriculture organisations and by national governments.

With the deadline just over a year away, Common Agriculture Policy negotiators are vigilant against a watering down of their original proposals. At the same time they also want to convince reluctant countries that they should agree.

Pro-green NGOs which first responded lukewarm to the Committee's proposal, saying it did not go far enough, have become supporters of the reforms and are calling on the member states to carry out the recommendations. - (IPS)

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