Around 18 to 20 percent of the EU’s total budget goes to livestock farming across Europe, says a new Greenpeace report.
Entitled “Feeding the Problem – the dangerous intensification of animal farming in Europe“, the report details how between €28.5bn and €32.6bn of the European Union’s subsidies earmarked for the farming sector may actually go to livestock farming. In addition, the report finds that around 71 percent of all farming land in Europe is currently supporting livestock.
The report further breaks this down by excluding grassland and zeroing in on crops. It finds that 63 percent of land suitable for growing crops is currently growing livestock feed, not food for humans.
Greenpeace came to these conclusions by using data from the European Commission and statistical office Eurostat to create estimates on the current amount of money or subsidies being channeled into the livestock sector from the farming budget, as well as how much land is currently tied to this aspect of farming.
The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is intended to help support farmers and ensure the maintenance of rural environments. However, despite these laudable goals, it has for years garnered criticism for being inefficient, full of red tape and potentially destructive for the farming sector. Even some people who oppose Brexit have hailed leaving as, at the very least, an opportunity to break away from CAP.
However, reforms to CAP have only been incremental because, despite its problems, it is considered to broadly work for balancing the wide-ranging needs of the EU’s many countries and their farms. In essence, it can’t work for everyone in every area, but the EU argues it does work for most, and it is constantly changing thanks to periodic reevaluations.
This year the policy will be amended for 2021-2027, and this report is designed to push the EU into recognizing that, far from limiting farming’s impact on rural areas, CAP is in fact doing the opposite.
“As scientists warn us that we have to cut meat to avoid environmental disaster, it’s madness to pour good money after bad into industrial animal farming,” Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director, Marco Contiero, said in a press release. “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.”
Farmers, of course, are not to blame for availing themselves of this system. The EU’s subsidies not only encourage intensive farming, they also produce a lot of waste. Water pollution in just six EU states costs between €2bn and €5bn a year. While it is true that livestock rearing may be more carbon efficient than comparing calorie-for-calorie the same yield of plants, it also produces significant amounts of methane, which is super insulating and drives global warming.
CAP continually channels public money in ways that promote bigger agriculture to support bigger meat farms. This essentially makes smaller farming homesteads unworkable, and that has to change, says Greenpeace.
The report concludes that CAP, which is set to be renegotiated over the next few weeks, must now change to dedicate 50 percent of its overall budget to schemes that promote environmental benefits, like encouraging more fruits and vegetables and fewer but more well-kept livestock. It also recommends measures like preventing spending that encourages the continued growth of intensive farming in favor of channeling money toward sustainable farming instead.
The EU Commission has, at the time of writing, not commented on the report, but the EU Observer reports that unofficially a Commission source dismissed the report, saying, “The commission regrets that the reports jumps to conclusions and makes uncertain and unverified links to substantiate a dubious claim that cannot be based on facts or statistics.”
It is critical to note that CAP is a multifaceted policy that ranges far and wide. It holds up a lot of different aspects of the farming sector that can overlap, so for example, talking about livestock rearing alone and drawing figures on that basis may not be as instructive as it first appears because there are a lot of different factors at play.
It is also critical to understand that, while there is a great deal of money being spent through CAP, the sector also sees high returns in some areas. The EU has long argued that, while it is resource intensive, this model can be sustainable by freeing up funds to channel to other areas, like preserving and maintaining green spaces.
Greenpeace and other campaigners say that these desires have not turned into action and that the boom of Big Farming has been a failure.
Stepping back from specific figures in this report, the idea that current land use is causing major problems for our ecosystems seems at this point to be so well supported by science that it is no longer up for debate. Insect population collapse, bird numbers dropping, and the severe reduction of biodiversity all appear to link back to land clearing and intensive farming.
The EU should listen to Greenpeace’s call and reform the CAP in a way that meets our environmental needs at this critical time.