|Agriculture in the European Union|
Not just farming …
EU farm policy – known as the common agricultural policy – ensures adequate European food production goes hand in hand with economically viable rural communities and action on environmental challenges such as climate change, water management, bioenergy and biodiversity.
Quality not quantity …
50 years ago, the focus of EU farm policy was on providing enough food for a Europe emerging from a decade of war-induced shortages. This included subsidising production and supporting prices for farmers by buying up surpluses. But these methods are now a thing of the past.
Today, EU policy aims to enable producers of all forms of food – whether cereals, meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables or wine – to:
With consumers becoming ever more quality-conscious about food, voluntary EU quality marks now help them make educated choices. These labels – indicating geographic origin, use of traditional ingredients or methods, including organic – also help make EU farm products competitive on world markets.
The various reforms of EU farm policy have also promoted innovation in farming and food processing – aided by EU research projects that have increased productivity and reduced environmental impacts, e.g. by using crop by-products and waste products to produce energy.
Spending the money where it is most needed
Financial safety nets to support farmers are still in place, but are used much more selectively.
For example, they can be used to provide relief from one-off emergencies like natural disasters, outbreaks of animal disease (e.g. foot-and-mouth) or major market imbalances that could endanger whole sectors of the rural economy.
The EU does supplement farmers' income with direct support to help them make a decent living – but in return they must meet standards on farm hygiene/food safety, animal health and welfare, biodiversity and landscape protection.
Competing more fairly
As the world's largest food importer and biggest market for food from developing countries, the EU has recently reformed its support systems so that farm export subsidies are now less likely to distort world markets.
And in the Doha Round of international trade talks, the EU has proposed eliminating export subsidies altogetherby 2013, as well as significantly reducing import duties on farm produce.
More reform ahead
Despite significant reform in recent years, more will be needed after the current funding package expires in 2013.
Challenges include the need to double world food production by 2050 to cater for population growth and wealthier consumers eating more meat – in the face of climate change impacts (loss of biodiversity, deteriorating soil and water quality).
When consulted about their views on such reforms in 2010, Europeans said they wanted EU farm policy to help farmers not just to produce food, but also to preserve natural resources and landscapes, improve animal welfare and keep rural communities viable, for example.
In response, the EU has published a set of reform proposals that reflect these demands, with an emphasis on sustainable farming practices, innovation, research and the spread of knowledge – as well as a fairer support system for European farmers that puts them in a position to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
Why farm support is expensive
EU farm policy is the most integrated of all EU policies and so takes a large share of the EU budget. But this is largely money your government would be spending on farming anyway – it is just managed by the EU rather than national governments.
Nevertheless, farm spending has dropped sharply in recent years as a share of the EU budget, from a peak of nearly 70% in the 1970s to just 34% in 2007-13.
This reflects both an expansion of the EU's other responsibilities and cost savings from reforms – reforms that have enabled the EU to welcome 12 new member countries since 2004 without any increase in farm spending. (http://www.europa.eu)