Posted on 01 February 2024
The European Commission's decision to roll back the measure on leaving land for biodiversity - known as Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GEAC) 8 - sidesteps the fundamental problem experienced and voiced by farmers across Europe, namely unfair prices. Environmental measures that support farmers in achieving food production in the long-term are essential to ensuring a viable future for Europe’s agricultural sector.
Giulia Riedo, Sustainable Farming Policy Officer at WWF EPO,
said: “Farmers are asking for fair rewards for producing our food, and they are right! The European Commission and Member States must focus on these very real concerns and address fair prices by fully implementing the Unfair Trade Practices Directive, ensuring that farmers who farm sustainably receive more funds, and requiring food processors and retailers to play their part in improving the sustainability of the food sector. By sacrificing critical environmental measures, policy-makers are barking up the wrong tree, and harming the long-term resilience and viability of Europe’s farming sector in the process.”
GAEC 8 requires farmers to leave 4% of their land for nature conservation (known as leaving land to fallow), meaning they cannot grow crops or use pesticides on this land. This measure encourages pollinators and natural predators that control pests, helps protect farmland from floods and drought by storing water in the land, and helps prevent soil erosion.
Instead of scrapping environmental measures, policy makers should address the real problems:
- Fair prices for farmers: The European Commission must fully implement the Unfair Trade Practices Directive and address food supply chain transparency.
- More public funding to be allocated to farmers who farm sustainably. Untargeted and harmful subsidies need to be fundamentally repurposed, supported by increased funding for nature-friendly farming practices.
- A fairer distribution of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funds by supporting struggling farmers. 20% of the largest European farmers, often large-scale industrial agri businesses, receive 80% of direct payments, while most farmers (often family farms) on small or medium-sized farms receive little to nothing.
- Stronger engagement, including financial, from food processors and retailers in the transition to sustainable food.
- Maintain environmental measures that prevent climate risks like floods and droughts, rather than paying the mounting damage costs for lost crops that follow an extreme weather event, and support farmers in implementing these.
- Require agricultural imports to adhere to the same sustainability, health and safety standards as those in place in the EU (mirror measures) to prevent unfair competition.
In addition, policy makers must give farmers long-term stability and investment certainty for fostering sustainable food production in Europe, rather than consecutive overhauls of the CAP which time and again fail farmers, the environment and consumers. Europe must establish a 2050 vision for sustainable food systems to provide a clear direction and ensure coherence among food related policies.