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'Health Check' on the EU Common Agricultural Policy - 02/09/2008
 
VEGA responds to a Defra consultation on proposals for a 'Health Check' of the CAP.
VEGA's response to the Defra consultation on proposals for the 'Health Check' of the EU Common Agricultural Policy follows:

We welcome the ongoing reform of the CAP. In particular, the decoupling of payments from production and the linkage to a range of criteria, including environmental sustainability, public health and animal welfare. As has been recognized, production-related subsidies do not achieve these aims and, indeed, have made many problems worse.

There needs to be much greater recognition of the negative impacts of livestock farming, especially intensive livestock systems. One particular impact, that of greenhouse gas emissions, has been spelt out in the UN FAO report 'Livestock's Long Shadow' (eg that livestock account for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions globally). There are many other impacts, such as

  • The need for extensive land areas (for grazing and feed production). Animal protein requires at least 5 times the land area to produce than the equivalent plant protein.

  • Greater pollution and use of water and other resources.

  • The public health impacts of diets containing a lot of saturated fat and animal protein (heart disease, diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis are just some of the diseases linked to diets high in meat, dairy and sugar).
Former Defra Minister Ben Bradshaw recognized these challenges in exhorting the public to cut down on their consumption of animal products. However, more needs to be done at the national and EU level to help shift both production and consumption towards healthier, more sustainable and cruelty-free agriculture. These imperatives can be summed up in the slogan "grow food, not feed".

We therefore believe that in general:

  • Decoupling payments for production of animal feed crops should take priority over decoupling payments for crops for human consumption.

  • Likewise, abolition of market interventions should be prioritized for animal production and animal feed production.

  • SFPs should be structured in way that recognizes the full range of impacts of the crops or livestock being produced. For instance, crops which themselves have significant environmental impacts or which have negative impacts through their use should be discouraged. Likewise livestock production systems which have greater negative environmental, health or animal welfare impacts should be particularly discouraged.

  • Conversely, there should be greater support for agricultural production, such as tree crops, which are relatively benign environmentally and which are associated with positive health benefits.

  • There should be specific support for 'sustainable plant-based' production systems such as 'stock-free organic' which is common in other European countries in various forms and is gaining greater acceptance in the UK.
The title of this review of the CAP (a 'Health Check') was perhaps deliberately chosen to emphasis the need to consider the 'downstream' effects of food production on public health. There have been many precedents for this, for instance the Finnish North Karelia project in 1970s which had a major impact in reducing mortality from cardiovascular disease and other causes. In the UK, the efforts of the Food Standards Agency to improve public health, for example by promoting consumption of fruit and vegetables and discouraging diets high in saturated fats should be backed up by appropriate agricultural incentives.

Finally, and notwithstanding the need to support the farming community and jobs in agriculture, we support the emphasis on greater support for rural development generally.  
 
 

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