EU vote threatens progress on green farming

ENVIRONMENTALISTS ACCUSE MEP’S of watering down eco-friendly plans for Common Agricultural Policy.

Foodservice Footprint Straw-Bales-300x293 EU vote threatens progress on green farming Green Scene Out of Home News Analysis  RSPB Peter Kendall Owen Paterson National Farmers Union Meurig Raymond MEP's Jenna Hegarty Gail Soutar Friends of the Earth Common Agricultural Policy CAP














Much has been done to improve the environmental performance of agriculture, but a recent vote in Europe on the next stage of the budget for farming subsidies could, say environmentalists, stall progress.


The European Parliament voted through its position on the future rules for the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) amid claims that plans to green the plan have been seriously watered down. One described the proposals as “even worse for the environment than the current model”.


The CAP accounts for nearly 40% of the EU budget and MEPs were voting to determine how these funds will be spent between 2014 and 2020. However, as Footprint went to press, farming groups and environmental campaigners were still trying to understand what had happened. Some reports suggested that MEPs had agreed farmers should work for 30% of their payments by operating in a way that benefits wildlife. What this entails is where it gets confusing.


A senior National Farmers Union adviser, Gail Soutar, said it was a “confused vote”, while the NFU deputy president, Meurig Raymond, offered a mixed reaction. He was happy to see the “ludicrous proposal” to set aside 7% of land for “ecological focus areas” slashed to 3% but was less pleased at the failure to recognise “the good work farmers are already doing”.


Raymond explained: “MEPs failed to support any of the amendments which would have derogated many of our grassland farmers, and all of our farmers who are already undertaking agri-environment commitments, from having to do further greening requirements.


“And this is despite the European Commission itself agreeing at last year’s NFU conference that the existing efforts of farmers should be recognised.”


Friends of the Earth said “greener farming” was still alive but the changes didn’t go far enough. The RSPB said MEPs had “ignored more than a million emails from members of the public who had called for a reform of CAP that delivers for the environment and farming”. Jenna Hegarty, the charity’s CAP campaigner, was concerned at the watering down of ecological focus areas and said the vote had overturned most of the rules under which farmers lose subsidies if they cause environmental damage.


The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, will meet his EU counterparts to finalise – and make sense of – the parliament’s position before a deal is thrashed out in the summer.


This month’s issue: an exclusive profile of the NFU president, Peter Kendall.