23 May 2008

When the CAP doesn't fit

The European Commission presented plans to shake up its Common Agricultural Policy, its multi-billion dollar system of farm subsidies, last Tuesday.

But the new proposals do little to fundamentally reform the system, despite pressure from rising global food prices, and growing environmental concerns about large-scale industrial agriculture.
More than 40 per cent of the European Union’s 155 billion dollar annual budget is spent on farm subsidies.

Currently, 15 per cent of farmers receive 85 per cent of the direct farm subsidies in the EU’s 27 member states.

Under the Commission’s new proposals, the EU would cut the link between its subsidies and the amount of food that is actually produced on the land. It claims that this will help to protect the environment and promote traditional family farms.

But the Confederation Paysanne Europeanne, a Europe-wide network representing small farmers, also claimed that the new measures do not go far enough. It argues that market de-regulation pushed by the EU has undermined food sovereignty globally.

The EU’s new proposals would also abolish set-aside, the practice of leaving 10 per cent of arable land fallow.

This measure is supported by farmers’ representatives, but was strongly criticised by environmentalists – who claim that the fallow land is a lifeline for the continent’s birdlife.

Reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy have long been demanded by Southern governments and development organisations, which have criticized the European Union for forcing developing countries to open their markets to heavily subsidized European agricultural produce. This is said to undermine the development of sustainable agriculture in poor countries.

Yet with the rise in food prices globally, the gap between the market price and the EU prices has narrowed; and with that, attention has turned to the role of other EU measures, such as its biofuel subsidies for the production of fuel from crops, in undermining sustainable agriculture.

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