Farming in the European Union cannot be discussed without talking about the Common Agricultural Policy, one of the first steps in the EU masterplan, created when the union was first formed at the Treaty of Rome, to ensure that food could be grown for the countries within the bloc. Its basic purpose was to integrate the food production of the member states to create an ‘ever-closer union’.
The aim of the Common Agricultural Policy is to help farmers produce enough food to feed the EU’s member states, ensuring that the quality of life of the EU’s citizens is maintained. While guaranteeing that there is enough food, the policy ensures that the food is of highest quality.
In recent years, there has been a shift in the policy focus. While CAP ensures food is provided to EU citizens, it now focuses more on environmental protection. This could be due to the unsustainability of the farming methods and the massive contributions of the agricultural industry to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases. The most recent reforms in 2013 have resulted in greener farming practises that will also be more sustainable as well as strengthening farmers position in the agricultural-economic chain. However, the policy does have its challenges. It is predicted that world food production needs to double by the year 2050 to cope with a rapid increase in global population, yet it must also ensure that greenhouse gas emissions are maintained low, whilst also maintaining the environmental quality. These are problems that could bring about a devastating feedback loop.
The CAP, however, coes at a price. The number of subsidies that are provided to farmers to ensure that they can produce the food is sourced from the EU fund, which is collected from the member states governments, which gets their funding from taxpayers. The taxpayers are paying the EU to allow the CAP to survive, the scheme is not just law that is set, it is also a scheme that requires funding. The consumer is not only paying towards the profits made by farmers, they pay towards the funding of the schemes through tax and pay more for the food when the CAP artificially inflates the prices of the food. As well as this, the CAP prevents competition within farming which, although the EU doesn’t treat it like, is also a business sector which must be able to compete without other business to encourage the growth of more efficient and sustainable technology, rather than just legally forcing the farming industry to become more sustainable. It does have some benefits, it protects the environment by stopping the use of dangerous chemicals that harm animal habitats and could affect the safety of food and it leaves certain boundaries uncultivated to ensure that farming in sustainable and not using endless areas of land. But more importantly, the CAP does not allow for the natural path to efficiency, it forces efficiency on farms instead.
In March 2017, over 150 European civil society organisations representing a range of stakeholders in the farming industry called on EU leaders to reform the Common Agricultural Policy. This emerged after leaders met in Brussels to discuss the future of the policy. The statement that was produced by the stake holders, titled ‘Good Food, Good Farming – Now’ outlined the problems that the current policy has. The groups want a policy that encourages diversity in the farming industry. The calls for policy change has catalysed through rapid decline in the number of farms, 25% of farms have shut down between 2003 and 2013. With this decrease in farms, there has been an increase in amount of waste produced with 20% of the food produced in the EU (88 million tonnes) wasted annually. For a policy that wishes to create sustainable farming for the EU and deliver food security, it has only reduced the number of farms and increased the amount of waste.
The farming sector of the United Kingdom is also a group of stakeholders that are not pleased with the way to policy has evolved. However, to ensure that trade with the EU is still viable after leaving the EU, the regulations that the CAP has set may have to be adopted by the devolved governments of the United Kingdom to ease trade with the EU. Farmers are pushing the UK national government for a single country-wide framework that would not leave the British market fragmented. The British government is creating plans that prevent the fragmentation of the market while also ensuring funding is in place for UK farms.
While the CAP began as a successful policy that ensure the food security for the European Union after the 2nd world war, it has evolved into an unsuccessful scheme that while ensuring sustainability doesn’t encourage competitiveness between the farming businesses. And with the United Kingdom leaving the EU, still wanting ease of trade with the union, there may not be any changes to UK policy. However, that would be a mistake. In order to best benefit UK farmers, it would be best to develop an agricultural policy unique to UK needs. The UK must scrap the Common Agricultural Policy after Brexit.