Slowing the CAP

16 Jul 2010

It is time to create a new food policy: a policy that brings together the disparate policies of agriculture, public health, economy, education and the environment and unites them in a shared vision. It is time to create a policy that offers a solution to the damaged state of our industrialized agriculture and food system. It is with this conviction that Slow Food has taken an active role over the years in influencing the reform of one of the most seminal European policies – The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the European Union’s system of agricultural subsidies and programs that for 60 years has directed the shape of food production in Europe and consequently its economic, environmental and cultural landscapes.

Carlo Petrini, Slow Food Founder and President, has been invited to participate in the conference “The CAP after 2013”, to be held in Brussels July 19-20 with Dacian Ciolos, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, opening the event and chairing the plenary sessions. The message that Petrini will be brining to the conference is clear: We need to change the industrialized, reductionist, market-oriented food system; remember the links between food and people; and work with the heritage of traditional knowledge. Quality agriculture must be based on the protection of regional specialties that have historically been the characteristic of Europe.

The fact that Carlo Petrini has been invited to participate in the conference and chair a key session entitled “The Future Role of the CAP in Promoting the Quality and Diversity of Food” is a sign that the values Slow Food promotes – the protection of small artisan food production, plant and animal biodiversity, conservation of the rural environment and the role of agriculture in potentially driving the economy – are relevant to the future of Europe. It is also a signal of recognition of the important role and work carried out by Slow Food in Europe and around the world.

Slow Food has also contributed to this debate open to EU citizens, stakeholders and think tanks (policy institutes) through a document, Slow Food’s stakeholders contribution, posted online. The opening paragraph outlines the critical role we all play in this juncture, stating, “We all have the privilege and the responsibility to live a key moment, culturally, with the very definition of Europe at stake.”

The questions posed by the Commission that Slow Food responded to in the document are: Why do we need a common agricultural policy? What do citizens expect from agriculture? Why reform the CAP? What tools do we need for the CAP of tomorrow?

In its response, Slow Food confirmed that it supports a common policy to address issues that are common to all of Europe. The document outlines the principal issues that should be addressed in the CAP reform so that it develops in a way that will benefit the future of Europe and safeguard its unique characteristics. The policy must:
• place small to medium scale agriculture and local economies at the corner stone of the system;
• reinforce such criteria as ‘conditionality’, ‘multifunctionality’ and ‘rural development’;
• enhance and protect quality indication of origin products;
• promote direct sales mechanisms for agricultural produce, enhancing the pay to farmers and shortening supply chains;
• create incentives, in terms of education, business opportunities and taxation for younger generations to work in agriculture;
• protect recent Eastern European countries against mis-development;
• oppose and prevent climate change through agricultural policy;
• protect traditional seeds, organic production and landscape;
• promote the adoption of better animal farming and feeding for animal welfare;
• focus on water conservation through systemic changes in the short and long term, through using methods such as education and use of appropriate breeds and species;
• safeguard energy resources;
• and safeguard the legacy of rural knowledge.

Known as a policy born through severe post war circumstances in 1950’s Western Europe, the CAP is considered by many to have offered a solution to the widespread threat of food shortages and the damaged state of agriculture. Slow Food believes it is an important policy to work with since the diverse countries that make up the EU face common problems in the food crisis. If reformed in the correct way – the CAP could offer the opportunity to solve some of those problems in a unified way.

However, the policy certainly has not been without its criticisms and complexities. Over the years CAP reform has at times attempted to address the changing needs of Europe and at other times been a reaction to unwanted outcomes of previous policies, such as the over production of food. Many critics claim that it is a protectionist policy and others challenge the idea that it was created out of the need to survive and have enough food to eat after years of war, asserting that it is nothing but a continuation of the sector interests that have been driving agriculture since well before the first and second world wars.

According to the European Commission, the core goals of the CAP are: “Ensuring a stable supply of affordable and safe food for its population; providing a reasonable standard of living for EU farmers, while allowing the agriculture industry to modernize and develop; and ensuring that farming could continue in all regions of the EU”. Yet the state of farming in Europe and the recent demonstrations across the continent – farmers retaliating in Paris against falling grain prices in April 2010 to the European “milk crisis” in 2009 – is just one indication that the focus of the CAP needs to change.

Currently the CAP accounts for 40% of the entire EU budget. In the past this portion has been as high as two thirds of the budget, which has lead the public and stakeholders to criticize the European Commission for overspending on it. Yet the CAP profoundly influences not only European farming but many aspects of environmental, cultural and economic life.

Slow Food believes that we need to maintain this budget but correct how the money is used and the focus of the policy in order to assist the many facets of agriculture, not solely agricultural production. “In short, a transition is needed from a set of agrarian policy tools to a food policy based on the ties between the business, the territory and the people, ties that are critical to development. Agriculture plays – or could play – a crucial role in many sectors: from health to climate change, from rights to economics, from education to biodiversity protection, but what is vital is to be able to create consistent and linked policies in the various areas, adding this challenge to the one already included in coordinating policies among the State Members.”

Only then will this policy serve to better our damaged agriculture and food system and revalue the special qualities of European farming and food culture.

CAP timeline:

1950’s – Original CAP arises out of post war circumstances: Food shortages and a damaged agricultural system. Its aim: to increase food production. The CAP offers subsidies and systems guaranteeing high prices to farmers as incentives to produce more.
1980’s –Europe becomes more self sufficient. However, tables turn and Europe faces a major surplus of food. What can’t be exported is either disposed or stored, with high budgetary costs, not to mention the cost to the environment and the disservice to farmers.
1990’s – Introduction of production limits and farmers are no longer paid just to produce food.
1992 – “The Mac Sharry reform”: Introduction of compulsory land “set-aside”. Farmers who have land representing 72% of the community under arable crops must stop producing on part of that land.

1997 – The Agriculture Council of Ministers defines the European model of agriculture as having a multi-functional role including maintaining the countryside, conserving nature, contributing to the vitality of rural life, responding to consumer concerns and demands regarding food quality and safety, protecting the environment and safeguarding animal welfare.

1999 – Emphasis on food safety and the environment.

2003 – Introduction of Single Farm Payments: Payments based on farmers complying with a range of food safety, environmental and animal welfare measures. Introduction of “decoupling”: Subsidies are disconnected from the production of certain crops.

For more information:
European Commission Common Agricultural Policy after 2013
Slow Food’s stakeholders contribution

Kate Johnston
[email protected]

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