Good, bad, ugly of EU food pol­icy

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - 60 YEARS OF EUROPEAN UNITY -

Five goods things about CAP:

■ Se­cure sup­ply of food that meets the high­est stan­dards: In re­turn for Com­mon Agri­cul­tural Pol­icy (CAP) sup­port, Euro­pean farm­ers ad­here to stan­dards that de­liver land­scape man­age­ment, high en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and the high­est an­i­mal wel­fare stan­dards. Food pro­duced in Europe is trace­able from farm to fork.

■ EU con­sumers are as­sured of high qual­ity food at rea­son­able prices: House­hold­ers now spend sig­nif­i­cantly less on food ver­sus 50 years ago. The av­er­age con­sumer spends just 15% of house­hold in­come on food to­day, com­pared to 30% when the CAP was in­tro­duced.

■ In­come sup­port for pro­duc­ers and safe­guard­ing the fam­ily farm struc­ture: EU direct pay­ments of €1.5bn an­nu­ally make up two-thirds of farm in­come in Ire­land. The pay­ments un­der­pin pro­duc­tion de­ci­sions, sup­port on-farm in­vest­ment and gen­er­ate eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity. A cor­ner­stone of the CAP is to sup­port farm­ing in all sec­tors and across all re­gions in the EU.

■ Pro­vi­sion of pub­lic goods: As well as food pro­duc­tion, farm­ers also pro­vide non-mar­ket pub­lic goods which are of ben­e­fit to so­ci­ety. Var­i­ous agri-en­vi­ron­ment mea­sures as part of the Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme have sup­ported farm­ers to plant and main­tain hedgerows and en­cour­age bio- di­ver­sity. Farm­ers are also con­tribut­ing to cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion. Our pre­dom­i­nately grass-based sys­tem, much of which is per­ma­nent pas­ture, and our farm forestry pro­vides a sig­nif­i­cant car­bon sink.

■ Sup­port­ing ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties: The agri-food sec­tor sup­ports 300,000 jobs di­rectly and in­di­rectly, many of which are lo­cated out­side the main ur­ban ar­eas. The choice to live in ru­ral Ire­land re­mains an at­trac­tive and pos­i­tive op­tion. Farm fam­i­lies, who live and work in their lo­cal­ity, make an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to main­tain­ing vi­brant ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

Five bad things about CAP:

■ Low farm in­comes: Av­er­age farm in­comes of €25,000 re­main well be­low most other sec­tors in the econ­omy. Tea­gasc clas­si­fies one-third of farm en­ter­prises in Ire­land as vul­ner­a­ble — ie, farm busi­ness is not vi­able and nei­ther the farmer nor the spouse has off-farm in­come.

■ Re-bal­anc­ing the food chain: Farm­ers’ po­si­tion in the food chain re­mains weak. There is a ma­jor im­bal­ance be­tween re­tail­ers and pro­ces­sors and the farmer, re­sult­ing in down­ward pres­sure on prices, of­ten be­low the cost of pro­duc­tion. The EU Agri-Mar­ket Task Force has rec­om­mended a series of ac­tions to im­prove the bar­gain­ing po­si­tion of farm­ers in the sup­ply chain — namely more price trans­parency, tack­ling any un­fair trad­ing prac­tices, in­creased use of con­tracts and greater ac­cess to fi­nance.

■ Bu­reau­cracy: Over a series of re­forms, the CAP has be­come much more com­plex and the bur­den of reg­u­la­tion has be­come much greater for farm­ers. The fam­ily farm is a con­stantly chang­ing work­ing en­vi­ron­ment, re­flect­ing dif­fer­ent pro­duc­tion sys­tems and sea­sons. The rules and reg­u­la­tions of the CAP pay­ment and in­spec­tions sys­tems must take ac­count of the prac­ti­cal re­al­i­ties of farm­ing.

■ Volatil­ity: The de­cou­pling of CAP pay­ments from pro­duc­tion, greater ex­po­sure to world mar­ket prices and desta­bil­is­ing po­lit­i­cal events have in­creased in­come volatil­ity for farm­ers. The next CAP must en­sure a full range of re­spon­sive mar­ket sup­port mea­sures which can pro­vide mean­ing­ful in­come sup­port to pro­duc­ers and put a floor on prices in times of mar­ket dis­tur­bance.

■ Age pro­file: Only 6% of farm own­ers are un­der 35. The CAP needs to do more to drive in­ter-gen­er­a­tional re­newal by en­cour­ag­ing farm­ers to re­tire and by sup­port­ing new en­trants.

Only 6% of EU farm own­ers are aged un­der 35.

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