Good, bad, ugly of EU food policy
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.