November 13, 2017
Guest post by Harriet Bradley, EU Agriculture & Bioenergy Policy Officer at BirdLife
If Aristotle were alive today, I’d like to imagine that he’d be right here in Brussels, giving open-air philosophy lectures at Place du Luxembourg. He would find no shortage here of topical analogies; only the other week we were given a first-hand lesson in the principles of causality – that worldly agency that connects one process (‘the cause’ – in this case unsustainable agriculture) with another process (‘the effect’ – biodiversity collapse).
Then again, when reports of ‘Insectageddon’ (a dramatic plunge in insect numbers spelling ‘ecological Armageddon’) grip the international media on a Wednesday and then on Thursday, you wake up to find that a leaked draft of the European Commission’s CAP Communication is not the radical recipe for a ‘Living Land’ that 258,708 citizens called for…. well it shouldn’t take a eureka moment to put two and two together.
But in case you missed it…let’s recap events and do the math together…
From ‘Silent Spring’ to Barren Air
A new scientific study, recently published in PLOS One, sparked considerable media attention with its account of dramatic insect decline. In 27 years, insects surveyed on German nature reserves have fallen by 76% and scientists are pointing the figure directly at unsustainable agricultural practices, namely the widespread use of pesticides and the destruction of natural habitats.
For influential Guardian journalist George Monbiot, this ominous sign of imminent biodiversity collapse is more immediately dangerous than even climate change. We are witnessing, he writes, ‘the erasure of non-human life from the land by farming’.
This is no exaggeration; insect decline reflects a spiraling downward trend across the board. Farmland birds are vanishing, down by 55% in three decades. We are plunging headfirst from living land to lifeless land and the collapse of food chains, with the intensive model of agriculture – aided and abetted by the current CAP – a major culprit.
Call the plumber…we’ve sprung a leak
Time to prevent an ecological meltdown is running out and the reform of the CAP post-2020, now underway, represents a critical chance to set agriculture on the right track.
This is why the leaked draft – a far cry from the radical change needed – is so disappointing. The draft does represent a radical ‘renationalisation’ of the CAP; shifting responsibility for financing and implementation to the Member States. But a fundamental question remains – whether the Member States and the farming sector will be held accountable for delivering on the CAP and wider EU objectives on biodiversity and the environment, and how?
Despite lip service, there is no real delivery mechanism for seriously addressing biodiversity and ecosystem collapse across farming landscapes; nor for resource challenges such as water, soil and input scarcity; nor much sign of ‘maximising the contribution’ of the CAP to the Sustainable Development Goals, which include ensuring sustainable food production systems by 2030 (SDG 2) and halting land degradation and biodiversity loss (SDG 15).
Alas, the main focus of the environmental section is resource efficiency, reflected in the fact that the only type of farming mentioned is precision farming. Although this has potential to reduce heavy and inefficient input use, it does not reflect a radical shift away from the current industrial model, towards embracing the many different non-industrial, low-input farming methods and farm types. This hardly reflects the results of the CAP consultation, in which European citizens (and thus taxpayers) overwhelmingly supported a fundamental transformation of the CAP to sustainable farming.
Sustainable from field to fork
The answer to radical biodiversity decline is a radical paradigm shift. To truly tackle the challenges faced, the next CAP must fund a wide scale transition to a food and land-use policy that is truly sustainable from field to fork. We need to turn away from the short-term model of over-production and area-based subsidies which puts the natural resources farmers rely on in peril. And if the proposed ‘renationalisation’ were to be approved, it would need ring-fenced funding and results-driven accountability for greening tied to measurable targets.
Given citizens’ demands through the recent CAP consultation for a radical change in food and farming policy, not only would addressing such challenges re-legitimise the CAP itself—in the eyes of those who pay for it and those that determine the EU budget—but surely taking the CAP out of the hands of the industrial farm lobby would bring the EU closer to those that actually matter – its citizens.
The full Birdlife vision for the CAP ‘Towards a New European Food & Land-Use Policy’, setting out objectives and how they would be funded, was launched in October and can be found here: http://www.birdlife.org/