Science - June 14, 2018

EU has not gone for a food policy

Albert Sikkema

European farmers are to get less direct income support and will have more climate-related and environmental obligations, but the member states will decide what exactly. This is the European Commission’s proposal for the Common Agricultural Policy (2021-2027). Krijn Poppe of Wageningen Economic Research had made suggestions for a new European food policy but he sees little of that reflected in the proposal.

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What do you think of this proposal?
‘The European Commission hasn’t done much with the suggestions Louise Fresco and I made for introducing a food policy. There won’t be an active consumer policy and there won’t be any agreements with supermarkets getting them to contribute to climate-smart food production and the promotion of fruit and vegetables. It is classic agricultural policy and that’s a pity.’

What is new in the plan?
‘The most striking aspect is that EU member states will get scope to make their own choices. So the Netherlands will be able to draw up a plan to spend more agriculture funds on climate and innovation rather than income supplements for farmers. The Commission will check the plan but that latitude is there. That is genuinely new. I think it’s good that countries can fill in the EU policy based on their own situation.’

It is classic agricultural policy and that’s a pity
Krijn Poppe, Wageningen Economic Research

Do we want the Netherlands to deviate from other EU countries?
‘Some observers are afraid this will erode the uniform EU market. I think we will be OK because the EU will be checking the plans and has to approve them. In the Netherlands, we will now have an interesting debate on whether we want less income support for farmers and more money for public services such as the conservation of grassland birds.’

What does the EU want to do with the climate?
‘Member states can make farming subsidies subject to conditions. For instance, farmers might only get income support if they satisfy climate conditions, such as no longer ploughing grassland or raising water levels in fenland. Now there will be room for such policies. I don’t know whether the member states will use that freedom to achieve the European climate targets — that depends on what each region does.’