Europe’s current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the EU’s oldest policy, and it needs a radical reform. It is perpetuating a model of agriculture that depletes finite global resources and damages the environment by contributing to climate change, biodiversity loss, the depletion of fisheries, deforestation, soil erosion, water scarcity, as well as water and air pollution. Europe’s agricultural policy subsidizes factory animal farming which is largely dependent on imports of feed and represents a major source of antimicrobial resistance.
Factory animal farming and industrial agriculture have been promoted at the expense of viable incomes for farmers and jobs in rural areas in Europe, degrading human rights, working conditions, and farmers’ livelihoods in developing countries.
Slow Food stands in defense of the environment, biodiversity, animal welfare, and small-scale farmers. It promotes a model for agriculture that puts emphasis on local agriculture, short distribution chains, and closed local cycles of production and consumption. It is a model that prioritizes soil fertility, the presence of people in the countryside, and the protection of biodiversity. From this perspective, Slow Food promotes a European food system based on agroecological small-scale food production and diversified local economies.
The unsustainability of our food system is particularly evident in the livestock sector. Each year the welfare of millions of animals raised for their meat, milk, and eggs for human consumption is often seriously compromised. Animals pay a harsh price in the current system; factory farms reduce animals to mere machines and commodities. They are packed into tight cages or confined to small spaces where they spend a short but painful life.
Living in these conditions makes animals more prone to diseases. In many intensive farms they are therefore routinely injected with vaccines and antibiotics, posing a risk to those who consume their meat. The EU livestock sector consumes more antibiotics than the human medical sector, and is contributing to the spread of antimicrobial resistance, which accounts for 33,000 deaths per year in the EU.
The intensive production of meat requires vast amounts of land to allow space for grazing and the production of animal feed. The intensive production of animal feed has devastating impacts on the environment. It is estimated that cattle raising is responsible for about 80% of all deforestation in the Amazon region. EU animal production is responsible for most agricultural emissions of methane and nitrous oxide – more powerful GHGs than CO2 – and is projected to account for 72% of those emissions by 2030.
The current system also poses a great threat to the livelihood of small-scale farmers who cannot keep up with the competition of big producers and the low prices of industrial meat production.
Since the early 1990’s, the European Union has been on the forefront concerning animal welfare legislation.
Much has been achieved over the years: Barren battery cages for hens have been outlawed, as have sow stalls (after the first few weeks of pregnancy) and the tethering of sows and veal crates. However, much still remains to be done and at the heart of the problem lay issues of enforcement and implementation.
Slow Food is convinced that a greater coherence on food policies at the EU level is needed and, in this respect, hopes that the Common Agricultural Policy measures on animal welfare will provide real support to farmers. In particular, it is necessary to introduce measures that take into consideration the cost of animal welfare by supporting farmers who voluntary choose to improve their standards beyond those required by law. Slow Food will furthermore strive for the full recognition of animal welfare as an element in future EU strategies on the sustainability of the food system. That is why Slow Food joined the End the Cage Age European Citizens Initiative, which collected over 1 million signatures in the EU to ban the use of cages in animal farming.
Watch the European Commission’s video on animal welfare, in which Piero Sardo, Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity President, explains Slow Food’s position on animal welfare.
Resources about animal welfare
Position paper (2013)
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is one of the oldest EU’s policies. After more than a decade of post-World War II food shortages and hunger, it was introduced in 1962 to increase agricultural production, and to ensure that people could have food at affordable prices and that farmers would earn a fair living for their work.
Today, the CAP accounts for about 40 % of the EU’s budget and is failing in many of its objectives, especially concerning its environmental and sustainability goals. Overall the CAP is not a champion in supporting sustainable farming, as its structure is still too rooted into an old system that rewards the farmer on a base of how many hectares are cultivated rather than supporting a full transition to ecological practices and granting economic support on the base of strong environmental conditionalities.
Slow Food, along with other civil society organizations, has been a vocal critic of the new CAP reform, which is planned for the 2021-2027 period. Slow Food’s network has been active in the yearly Good Food Good Farming campaign, which demands that CAP be transformed to meet the ecological, social, and economic challenges we face. Specifically, Slow Food asks:
- To counter the loss of small-scale community-based farming and deliver decent working conditions for farmers and farmworkers
- To end the blind per-hectare farm payments paid to farmers, and replace them with targeted funding and support that promotes the transition to agroecology
- To tackle the climate crisis, restore soil-fertility and biodiversity, protect water, reduce energy- and chemical dependencies, and promote animal welfare through targeted funding
- To prioritize seasonal, local, and fair production of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and meat, ensuring access to healthy, nutritious, and affordable diets for all.
For an alignment between the CAP and the EU Green Deal, and the integration of the Farm to Fork and the Biodiversity Strategies targets within the CAP.
Slow Food will continue fighting for a green and more sustainable agriculture in Europe, and for integration of agricultural policy with other food policies, including health, animal welfare, youth, environmental, and cultural policies.
To learn more about the CAP and the state of agriculture in the EU, check out the Agricultural Atlas!
Resources about CAP
- Policy Brief: Slow Food’s CAP Review 2018:
Survey and Recommendations: Slow Food’s Contribution to the Debate on the Future of Food and Farming (2018):
Consultation Response: Slow Food’s response to the consultation process launched by the DG for Agriculture On the CAP legislative framework:
Slow Food promotes a model for agriculture based on local agriculture, short distribution chains, and locally closed cycles of production and consumption. It is a model that prioritizes soil fertility, the presence of people in the countryside, and biodiversity protection.
Slow Food also urgently asks that the principles of agroecology be introduced into agricultural production systems.
Agroecology is based on the conservation and management of agricultural resources through participation, traditional knowledge and adaptation to local conditions. One of agroecology’s greatest concerns is agrobiodiversity, considered a primary component of agroecosystems and a source of ecosystem services.
The use of agroecology as a scientific term dates back to the 1970s, but many of its solutions have been applied throughout history by rural communities around the world. This ancient body of knowledge has been systematically put aside or forgotten with the arrival of the so-called “Green Revolution”, which introduced a model of agriculture based on high levels of energy-rich external inputs, like the widespread use of synthetic agricultural chemicals and powerful machinery run on fossil fuels.
As the years passed, the long-term unsustainability of agriculture based on high external inputs became increasingly evident, both from an environmental perspective and in terms of the productivity of agricultural systems. Today, agricultural science and practice are reorienting themselves towards more sustainable practices and are reconsidering the value of traditional agricultural models. These often use methods that preserve soil fertility, varietal choices, and rotation and intercropping practices that can represent the most efficient and effective way of maintaining the productive capacity of agricultural systems.
Slow Food Europe advocates for policies that support the development of agroecological practices, for further investments to be made to develop agroecology, and for research to be conducted to improve knowledge about agroecological practices.