Race to the bottom on environmental farm standards looms

The European Commission wants to give national governments more wiggle room to put their own plans together on how they comply with general EU goals for farming. But the extra leeway could mean EU countries won’t face dissuasive sanctions for not meeting the policy’s environmental and climate objectives.

NGOs warned that the Commission’s proposal for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – published last Friday – sets the stage for a race to the bottom on environmental farm standards as countries would have little incentive to link farm payments to environmental protection as this would put their farmers in at a negative competitive advantage in Europe.

Bérénice Dupeux, Policy Officer for Agriculture at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said:

“Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan is ignoring people’s concerns about the negative impact our food and farming system is having on nature, the climate, and people. Hogan says he wants a results-based policy but his proposal remains an empty shell, with payments neither linked to environmentally-friendly farm methods or actual environmental improvements. With so much European taxpayers’ money being spent on farm payments, we need real accountability to ensure the cash is supporting farmers to produce safe and healthy food in a way that works in harmony with the environment and not against it.”

She called for Member States have the political courage to commit to agricultural practices that are truly sustainable, encouraging a race to the top.

While Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has been stating that his proposal includes an increase to climate expenditure, in reality Member States will be able to count any payments that simply respect minimum sustainability standards towards reaching the policy’s climate objective.

A new study published in the journal Science shows that even the most sustainable beef and dairy producers have a more damaging impact on our environment than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal producers.

Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy at BirdLife Europe, said:

“This proposal drives another nail in the coffin of European biodiversity and puts the future of European farming in jeopardy. The CAP at this point has lost its last shred of legitimacy as a way of spending almost half a trillion euros of citizens money.”

The proposal kick-starts a political to-and-fro between the different EU institutions and EU governments before a final decision is made on what the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will look like. These new laws will come into effect across the bloc in 2020.

On Friday the Commission also published its new proposal for the LIFE programme – the only direct source of EU environmental and climate funding. Around €5.4 billion will now be earmarked for the next LIFE programme budget for 2021 to 2027, an almost 60% increase from the €3.45 billion in the previous budget.

Anke Schulmeister from WWF EU said:

“LIFE remains a critical tool for creating innovative approaches to nature conservation and climate protection. It is important to remember, however, that the funds available for LIFE are marginal and fall short of the 1% of the budget that WWF and more than 200 other organisations had advocated for: at the proposed level, the programme will not be able to address the challenges that we are facing with climate change and environmental degradation.”