Continuing in our series of CAP commentary from as wide a range of sources as possible, below we present the CAP position statement of MEP Martin Häusling. In it, he points to the folly of following an export and growth model for agri-food. Moreover, this model as it stands delivers little by way of environmental goods, or for animal welfare or the rural economy. He also emphasises the specific benefits of organic farming, while giving us ten points for major CAP reform.
By Martin Häusling
One of the objectives of the 2009 revision of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union was: ‘… to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, in particular by increasing the individual earnings of persons engaged in agriculture…’.
For many years now the EU has been failing to meet this objective, despite substantial subsidies in the form of taxpayers’ money. A European Parliament report highlighted the following: farm incomes in the EU are not even 50% of the incomes in other sectors, even though exports of agricultural products are continuing to rise. At the same time, we are exploiting ecosystems to the maximum and are using far too much fertiliser and far too many chemicals.
As to why we are so far off a future-proof agricultural policy in Europe, that is an issue that Reinhild Benning and Tobias Reichert from Germanwatch analysed in detail in the study I published, which is entitled: ‘Foundations, not Pillars: Proposals for an overhaul of Europe’s agricultural policy’ (.pdf). Their conclusion is that radical change is needed. And I agree!
Against the backdrop of current agricultural policy and producer prices geared to global market levels, individual farmers are scarcely in a position to make both increasing yields and preserving the natural environment the long-term priorities they need to be.
In view of the fairly low, steadily declining level of value added which agriculture generates, many holdings view increasing productivity and production as being the only way to guarantee their continued existence.
The current agricultural crisis in Europe shows that although a farming model which focuses on exports and growth does deliver substantial profits for traders and the food industry, it does not meet consumers’ wishes or guarantee farmers a proper income. At the same time, this model is giving rise to substantial pollution of the environment, biodiversity losses and animal suffering. This is prompting criticism not only from consumers and environmental groups, but also increasingly from many experts and governmental advisory bodies in Europe. What is more, a whole host of countries which take in European exports are having major problems developing their own markets as a result, and farmers in those countries are losing their livelihoods. As a result, they are leaving their countries for regions around the world that are economically more stable, including Europe.
What we need to do in Europe (and all over the world) is work towards sustainable, humane and resource-efficient agriculture that focuses on its own strengths and on its own local processors and markets wherever possible. In other words, more regional production, more regional crafts, more regional trade. This, in turn, will also generate more value added and higher farm incomes. What is the point of shipping cheap milk and cheap meat (or apples and pears) overseas, and financing the shipments with European taxpayers’ money that ends up in the pockets of traders and landowners, rather than funding the development of Europe’s regions?
Spending public money to encourage farmers to provide services to society is something that was agreed on during the last reform of the CAP. However, defenders of the status quo, advocates of rapid growth and trade lobbyists completely watered down and muddled the sensible – at least in terms of its approach – proposal made by former Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, to make the allocation of taxpayers’ money contingent on compliance with environmental standards. They did so by persuading the Council and many MEPs to approve complicated derogations and loopholes. In practice, this will impose absurd requirements on farmers all over Europe that will make farming needlessly complicated and farm management hugely costly. I say needlessly because, measured in terms of the cost, it will have hardly any positive impact on the environment or on income stabilisation.
I therefore regard the current single payment system under the so-called ‘first pillar’, which comes with no ambitious requirements attached, as an ineffective way of achieving the objectives set out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union of ensuring a ‘fair standard of living’ for farmers and their families and workers and the provision of services to society in the area of resource protection.
The lopsided funding arrangements are also leading to a drop in the number of small and medium-sized enterprises in the food processing industry, and that number is in fact falling even faster in Germany than in other EU countries. This trend is at odds with the need to safeguard a diverse, multifunctional farming industry, stabilise rural incomes and develop rural regions.
Retaining the system in its current form makes neither environmental nor economic sense.
Spending public money in a truly effective way with a view to securing the provision of services which society needs must in future mean that CAP funds are spent solely on environmental/climate action, water protection and animal welfare, and on sensible structural investments in the rural economy. Only then can state support be part of the package. Farms that do not work on this basis would have to manage without taxpayers’ money, given that there would be no justification for the provision of state support.
In the context of the overhaul of agricultural policy, the current consensus is that the excessive bureaucracy farmers have to cope with should be done away with and that farm management should be made easier. A system that is efficient in the way described above needs to keep sight of this objective, albeit without abandoning environmental and socioeconomic goals. It must be simple and efficient.
At the same time, however, some degree of oversight is essential wherever public funds are spent. We owe the taxpayer this much.
A host of different sustainability concepts have been developed for many areas of farming. Complex models and systems based on a wide range of measurable factors that act as sustainability indicators may make sense as a source of scientific insights or for industrialised food processing, but they are not so well-suited to real-life farming. Given that compliance with these models and systems would need to be checked thoroughly before payment entitlement could be established, we would simply end up, once again, with a nightmarishly complicated system of requirements and checks: reliable surveys of biodiversity or soil fertility, for instance, cannot be carried out at short notice and at reasonable cost for the purposes of establishing payment entitlements.
If we are looking for a system geared to the highest environmental, animal welfare and regional economic effectiveness standards, it would make sense to choose one that, by virtue of its very design, makes it possible to check compliance with all of these criteria in one go.
One such system would be organic farming. This system already offers major advances over current conventional farming in nearly every aspect that is fundamental to a sustainable agricultural and food system. The Council for Sustainable Development in Germany actually proposed this as long ago as in 2011 in its recommendation ‘Organic Farming Gold Standard: For a sustainable agricultural transition’. A recent study published in Nature echoes several other studies from the past two decades from all over the world in suggesting that, in the long term, organic farming will be globally much more successful than conventional farming in terms of productivity, the environment, the economy and social welfare. Organic farming only lags behind slightly when it comes to yields, though it does produce the highest yields in extreme weather conditions. In the tropics, it anyway already surpasses the yields achieved through the use of conventional systems by 20 to 90%.
Above all, organic farming has already become well established as a monitorable system throughout Europe (and beyond), and sophisticated trading frameworks already exist. We would need both if we wanted to develop a brand new, eco-friendly direct payment system based on criteria to be met individually, and it would have to be developed in parallel with the existing organic farming system. That would make no sense economically or administratively.
Organic farming is the perfect model for steering the EU’s agricultural policy towards sustainability, and it lends itself particularly well to a system based on compliance with a premium standard in order to obtain funding. Provision could also be made for less exacting standards, up to production which meets minimum statutory requirements, but which does not qualify for public funding, given that no additional services are provided to society. Intensive farms that operate solely on the basis of compliance with minimum statutory requirements, and which wish to operate on the global market, can do so without funding from the taxpayer. To ensure that these holdings do farm sustainably, the environmental protection, public health, plant health and animal welfare principles which currently form the basis of the cross-compliance requirements must in future be the minimum statutory requirement – even if no direct payments are involved – for any form of agricultural production in the EU.
In order to protect and increase biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems, more needs to be done in future than the current organic farming standards can guarantee. To achieve this, as a first step investment is needed in suitable research and breeding programmes for the organic farming system. Further schemes should also be attached to the organic farming premium standard, however, and they should incorporate the worthwhile sections of the current ‘Agri-Environment Schemes’ on fostering biodiversity that are not covered by organic farming, for instance in the field of conservation. Contract programmes such as ‘Conservation Partnerships’ would lead to the award of a ‘premium plus standard’. Further additional schemes must also make for the promotion of regional sales and marketing structures. In recent years organic farming has contributed far more towards creating jobs and small and medium-sized firms than the conventional food supply chain. These businesses are not necessarily covered by the principles, though, and so they are currently under threat. They require active support and funding.
Furthermore, disadvantaged areas that are particularly important from a conservation standpoint must be put in a position to guarantee environmentally friendly land use on a permanent basis. To do this, it will be necessary to secure considerably higher funding by way of packages for disadvantaged areas (e.g. mountain farmer schemes). Otherwise, it is doubtful whether sustainable farming and equivalent living standards can be achieved in these regions. A concept like this may, of course, fail to work if the markets are completely liberalised. We are now faced with a fundamental decision.
The ‘right to food’ is enshrined in international law as a human right in the UN ICESCR. It is also enshrined in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The international Right to Food Guidelines were accepted unanimously by all FAO Member States (187 in total) in 2004. According to these guidelines, the right to food covers a person’s right to choose their own food system as well as equal access to healthy food regardless of income or origin. The right to food includes the right of people and governments to take measures against environmental, economic or social dumping and to develop their own sustainable food systems (food sovereignty). This applies in equal measure to both developing countries and Europe.
Why should we bow down to a free trade ideology if this leaves our farmers poorer, our regions less habitable and animals and the environment in a worse state and which leaves us all eating the same tasteless processed junk, rather than natural, regional, high-quality food?
This is why I am calling for an overhaul of the CAP:
- Environmental/climate action, water protection and animal welfare and structural investments in the rural economy are currently not official objectives under Article 39 of the TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). Article 39 must therefore be amended.
- Organic farming must become the model for European agricultural policy and the premium standard to be met in order to obtain public funding.
- Starting in 2020, the payment system should be overhauled by 2034 at the latest.
- During this transitional phase, farms which meet lower animal husbandry and land cultivation standards would receive less money, in accordance with a sliding scale. These standards should be set on the basis of operating factors that are easy to monitor, e.g. pastoral farming/minimum crop rotation, exclusive use of organic fertilisers and so on, to rule out any risk of excessive red tape.
- Conserving and increasing biodiversity in the farming industry, broader-based conservation measures and support for disadvantaged areas should be additional goals under specialised support schemes that will be offered in connection with both the premium standard (organic agriculture) and other standards.
- We need to promote a gradual transition to more humane animal husbandry systems. To do this, we need to redefine region-specific humane animal husbandry systems and expand pastoral farming at EU level.
- A medium-term objective under all the standards must be to ensure that animal husbandry in each region is geared to the area of land available for fodder cultivation.
- The cultivation of legumes in Europe must form the basis of the local protein supply.
- We need to come up with a ‘best practice’ for applying European public health directives to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) so that the latter are not crowded out.
- Specific support must be provided to help develop local marketing structures at all sales levels across Europe.