Tricky task to reform the cap - Veterinary Practice
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Tricky task to reform the cap

Our conservation correspondent believes there is no room for complacency with EU agricultural subsidies.

THERE has been a lot of press in
recent years about the “greening”
of EU farm subsidies in an attempt
to reward farmers for making
environmentally-friendly policy
decisions aimed at promoting

“Set aside” was
one such attempt
which caused much
criticism from some
quarters, but methods
such as leaving wider
unploughed headlands and replanting
hedgerows have received a more
general nod of approval.

There is clearly no room for
complacency, however, as a report
published in the journal Science makes

Despite the EU proclaiming that its current agricultural
subsidy policy
increasingly focuses
on environmental
improvements, leading
environmental experts
are saying that the
policy is too weak and watered down to
have any significant
impact on biodiversity
and may even make
matters worse.

Only if individual
states take action can
the policy hope to have any beneficial effect. The reason
for this, says the report, is that almost
50% of farmland and 88% of farms
will be exempt from Ecological Focus
Measures, thus allowing farmers to sidestep such requirements as maintaining permanent grassland
on farms or growing at least three
different crops on farms of over 30

It appears, for instance, that in many
EU states, farmers can even be paid
for removing flower-rich meadows and
replacing them with higher yielding pastures on which
to graze livestock. It
is thought likely that
there will be a 5% loss
in grassland between
now and 2020.

The amount of
money involved in EU
agricultural subsidies
is huge, some £295
billion a year, and
represents around
40% of the whole
EU budget. One of
the co-authors of
the critical report, Dr Lyn Dicks from
the Department of
Zoology at Cambridge
University, suggests
that CAP money
should be reserved for
funding works seen to
be to the public good:
works that lead to
“sustainable farming:
thriving wildlife,
beautiful landscapes,
clean water, fertile
soils, land that
contributes to a stable climate, and
diverse communities of wild insects
to pollinate crops or regulate pest

Alarming situation

The situation is particularly alarming
in some of the newer member states
where biodiversity is still relatively high.
CAP money is encouraging an increase
in farming scale in these countries
accompanied by increased drainage
of peatlands, conversion of grassland
to arable crops, and an increase in the
use of agrochemicals such as arti cial

All of which will reduce biodiversity
in the medium to long term, a path
that many EU countries have already
trodden and are now looking for
practical ways to reverse.

The difficulty that many member
states have is the political clout of the farming community and in those
countries with more rural-based
economies politicians ignore the
farming lobby at their peril.

Even in Britain where farmers do
not make up a large percentage of the
electorate, the Environment Secretary
Owen Paterson was forced to reduce
the amount of farm subsidy for green
policies from 15% to 12% when the
NFU lobbied the Prime Minister.

The trick to successful CAP reform
is not, therefore, an easy one to pull
off. To be successful in the long term
it must involve measures that preserve
and expand biodiversity and ensure
sustainability, whilst providing a decent
income to farmers and producing
sufficient food to feed the increasing
world population.

The right solution has not been
found yet but it appears to be ever
more urgent that it is.

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