Agriculture’s excessive impact on nature, planet and health under fire

A vote in the European Parliament’s Environment committee has seen MEPs back higher environmental ambition in the EU’s farm subsidy scheme.

The vote comes as campaigners calling for a rethink of how we grow, share and consume our food in line with the principles of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) launch a new EU-wide petition calling for an end to the current system of EU subsidies which heavily support damaging intensive agriculture.

Nearly €60 billion of EU money is spent on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) every year, most of which subsidises industrial farming with payments based on farm size and number of animals.

Animal agriculture is responsible for around 16.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, equivalent to the emissions from the combustion of all transport fuels.

Scientists have issued repeated warnings that significant reductions in meat consumption are essential to avoid dangerous climate change and that Europe must halve its meat and dairy production by 2050 to ensure sustainability of the livestock sector.

Bérénice Dupeux, Agriculture Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said: “By using public money to support agricultural intensification, the EU’s current farm subsidy system exacerbates climate change and environmental destruction. It is damaging to rural communities, public health, and, crucially, current and future generations’ ability to produce healthy and safe food.

Today’s vote was the first in a set of key European Parliament votes on the European Commission’s proposal for reform of the CAP which will cover the years 2021-2027. It was the first time that the Environment committee has been given a say on CAP reform alongside the Agriculture committee. A vote in the Agriculture committee will follow in early March, and an all-MEP vote in the Parliament’s plenary session is scheduled to follow in April.

MEPs championed amendments on maximum livestock density, but they fell short of addressing the extent of the current environmental and economic crisis in the agricultural sector.

Dupeux added:

While today’s vote in Parliament’s Environment committee shows that MEPs have risen to the challenge of seeking higher environmental ambition in the CAP, given the environmental and climate urgency, what is really needed is a full remodeling of our whole farming system.

With government policies around the world, including the CAP, universally supporting unsustainable agricultural production systems dominated by intensive meat and dairy farmers, environmental NGOs have called for the next CAP to change course and support farmers in the transition to sustainable farming. In a paper published last September, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), BirdLife Europe, WWF, and Greenpeace identified the need for funding nature protection; ending perverse subsidies for intensive agriculture and factory farming; ensuring environmental laws on farms are truly enforced; and, involving environmental bodies in the reform process.

Research published this week by Greenpeace shows that through public funds delivered via the CAP, € 28.5 billion and € 32.6 billion go to livestock farms or farms producing fodder for livestock – between 18% and 20% of the EU’s total annual budget.

Greenpeace’s investigation found that 63% of arable land is used to produce feed for farm animals instead of food for people and that the major trend in the European livestock sector is for ever-increasing concentration of meat and dairy production in fewer and larger farms.

Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said:

The EU has a responsibility to use the CAP to help farmers move to ecological agriculture, rearing less but better animals, protecting our environment, climate and health. While small farms are disappearing at alarming rates, public money encourages the biggest farms to get bigger, this has to stop.