31.05.2018 |

The EU needs a new food and farming blueprint, study

The EU needs a new food and farming blueprint (Photo: CC0)

The European Union has no consistent, coherent or complete food policy, new research shows. The lack of an comprehensive framework for food policy means that the current food and farming policies are failing to adequately protect public health and the environment, as well as making the farming sector sustainable. This is the conclusion of a study that was carried out by the University of Pisa and published on May 24. The researchers assessed different food-related EU policies to better understand whether they jointly contribute to a sustainable food future. Among those policy instruments or tools were the so-called Greening payments in the framework of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Nitrates Directive, seed marketing directives, public food procurement, competition policy or the labelling of food and drinks. The study, commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe, European Public Health Alliance, IFOAM EU and Slow Food, found many policy weaknesses and concluded that the existing instruments are not conceived in a systemic and integrated way to contribute to the sustainability of the whole system.

“We assessed 10 different EU policies to judge how they contributed to a sustainable food and farming system,” said Professor Gianluca Brunori at the University of Pisa. “Available evidence shows that there are many inconsistencies, incoherencies or gaps. One of the problems is policy failure, meaning that some of the EU’s policies fail in achieving their main objectives. For example, the greening of the CAP has failed to deliver the planned environmental benefits. “The general impact of Greening measures is relatively low, especially due to the many exemptions and derogations to the rules arising as a compromise for the political acceptance of the reform and to the large flexibility given to the Member States to implement the reform,” the authors write. Another problem is inconsistency because many EU policies conflict with the goals of other policies. For example in the case of the seed marketing directives, economic and social objectives are priorities with the aim of establishing a market for regulated seeds that guarantee productivity and safety of food crops. However, this comes at the expense of reducing genetic diversity, which in turn adversely affects ecological, ethical and resilience goals.

The study also mentions examples of policy incoherence. Although some EU policies have the potential to contribute to a sustainable food system, their implementation remains insufficiently coordinated with other policies. The researchers found that there is little connection between EU laws to protect water from nitrate pollution and the CAP cross-compliance rules. Policy gaps are also an issue: Sometimes policy instruments are missing, or existing instruments fail to integrate other sustainability dimensions. Professor Brunori says that all these deficiencies “should be addressed through an overarching policy framework, able to balance a mix of demand and supply side policy instruments, as well as food environment-oriented ones.” The researchers hope that their study will contribute to building a more ethical and resilient food system in the EU.

The report comes ahead of the expected publication of the European Commissions’ new plans for the future of the CAP this Friday. The organisations that commissioned the research are calling for the CAP to be reformed in a way to help transition towards a sustainable food and farming system within a new policy framework. “The current approach to food and farming is a hodgepodge of incoherent and competing policies that damage public health, the environment and the welfare of the farming community,” said Stanka Becheva from Friends of the Earth Europe. “The reform of the CAP must be used to step back from the vested agribusiness interests instead as an opportunity to start building an agroecological food system that is fit for the future.” (ab)

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