The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is in need of reform according to many. EU (European Union) Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has faced a recent backlash over his pledge of 15 million euros ($15.9 million) to aid the industrial meat market in Europe by combating “bad press.” His goal is to raise meat consumption. Hogan has been criticized for ignoring the health concerns that have been raised regarding processed meat and red meat, and for seemingly disregarding the carbon footprint associated with beef farming in general.
Common Agricultural Policy And Agriculture Commissioner – Phil Hogan
Hogan is a former chair of the EU environmental council and has been EU Agriculture Minister under President Jean-Claude Juncker since 2014. Upon appointment to the role, Hogan stated, as Commissioner, he would be focusing on rural development programs, ensuring that agriculture benefits from new research and innovation, and continuing to uphold environmental and sustainability at the center of EU agriculture.
Juncker defined a number of goals for Hogan in his open mission letter, stating, “Production patterns and structures in EU agriculture must adapt to take into account worldwide population growth, income disparities, and the scarcity of natural resources and climate change.”
Amongst other targets, Hogan was tasked to renew “efforts in the agricultural sector to contribute to energy efficiency and emissions reductions, also in the light of progress on climate action at EU and global level”
He recently confirmed that the European Commission will be giving the EU’s beef sector, along with other meat sectors, “special importance” from now through 2020. When speaking at the European Meat and Livestock Trading Union’s annual general meeting in Rotterdam, he declared there would be a bigger emphasis on the beef and meat sectors and there was a need to “highlight the role of the meat sector in the sustainability agenda.” Despite the contributions the meat sector makes to the sustainability effort, in terms of animal consumption of waste material, the current level of meat consumption cannot be considered sustainable; and pushing for great consumption does nothing to help the fight here.
EU officials recently proposed a carbon tax on US goods if they don’t adhere to climate regulations; so there is a conflict arising here between Hogan’s push to increase meat consumption/production (which is highly carbon intensive) and the EU’s drive to cut carbon emissions, promote sustainability, to be true to the Paris Climate Agreement.
Olga Kikou, European Affairs Manager at Compassion in World Farming, has been critical of Hogan’s promise to fight low meat consumption through the introduction of promotional campaigns designed to boost beef consumption. Compassion in World Farming are an activist group who work round the world, in an effort to end all cruel factory farming practices.
She was particularly critical of his reallocation of 15 million euros, announced at the annual Sommet de l’Elevage in Clermont-Ferrand, intended for the European Internal Market, to fight back against the negative publicity surrounding meat, poor animal treatment and conditions, and detrimental impact of red and processed meat on human health.
I spoke to Chris, a legal expert at Herbert Smith Freehills, a global commercial law firm, to discuss the legal and political implications of these policies. He argued that the EU cannot afford to ignore the farming community and the EU funding of the industrial meat market could be interpreted as a move born out of self-preservation:
It’s a difficult one because the EU has to balance both short-term concerns about its own future and long term implications of current policies. They need to keep support because to not support beef/dairy farming could be twisted to be an attack on farmers and add fuel to the various anti-EU fires across Europe.
You could argue that the EU is using public money, to fund the meat sector, in order to prop up and maintain support for their own regime and institutions in a time of political upheaval. That sounds like there could be a conflict of interest.
In 2006, a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the U.N. estimated that livestock was responsible for about 18 percent of human-caused greenhouse gases – although that figure was disputed by both sides. At almost 1/5 of global man-made emissions, it seems counterintuitive to EU goals to attempt to boost a product that has such a huge impact on climate change; and those figures don’t even consider the carbon effects of transport, processing, and storage.
Although it makes sense for the EU to boost production for short term economic reasons, it is at odds with the battle against climate change. A 2016 study by the Oxford Martin School found that if we were to reduce our meat consumption to that which accepted health guidelines advise, food-related greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by as much as 29 percent by 2050. In contrast, were global meat consumption to double by 2050, as predicted, then 500 million tons of meat would be consumed globally every year – an utterly unsustainable figure in terms of available land and emission reduction targets.
The FAO has stated in the past that the beef and meat industries are two of the key contributors to environmental problems like climate change, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and wildlife, water scarcity and pollution, and land degradation. There have been accusations that these policies are only being promoted to keep the farming industry happy, and that there is no way to combat these issues whilst the Commission continues with their current CAP model.
An open letter to Commissioner Phil Hogan has been written by groups like Compassion in World Farming, Eat Better, and Greenpeace EU, calling for the abolition of public funding for industrial meat farming. The letter was co-signed by Slow Food, the European Environmental Bureau, Humane Society International, SAFE, Friends of the Earth Europe, Eurogroup for Animals, and a plethora of others. It called for the EU to place high priority on a transition toward more sustainable farming and diets:
The European Union should be pressing for the need to foster a transition towards sustainable diets at these negotiations, for instance by promoting healthy plant-based diets. Introducing measures to further increase meat consumption will undermine the EU’s credibility and commitment to tackling climate change.
Especially given the pledges to cut all fossil fuel use by 2050 made by 47 developing nations at COP22, and their criticism of more developed countries apparent lack of urgency and action regarding climate change.
Health Issues Associated With Processed Meat
In October 2015, the cancer research wing of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared processed meat (hot dogs, ham, sausages, and meat based sauces) is a carcinogen that causes colorectal cancer, while red meat like beef, pork, and lamb is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
The research was conducted by a group of 22 experts from 10 countries convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Processed meat has been placed in the same category as alcohol and tobacco – though it has been noted that processed meat is far less dangerous than both; an occasional bacon sandwich is not equivalent to smoking.
They did stress that meat can also have potential health benefits, and Cancer Research UK commented this was a reason to cut down on red and processed meats, rather than give them up entirely. Dr. Teresa Norat, one of the advisors to the WHO report, noted that there were many factors causing this type of bowel cancer:
People should limit consumption of red meat and avoid consuming processed meat, but they should also have a diet rich in fiber, from fruit and vegetables … limit the consumption of alcohol and be physically active.
Animal agriculture is one of the largest consumers of antibiotics in the world today; in Europe, antibiotic use is more than twice as high in animals as in humans. Overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming is a key contributor to the development of antimicrobial resistance. This overuse of antibiotics in agriculture is, in large part, responsible for the superbug epidemic. In fact, new data released by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has shown many European countries are failing to halt the massive overuse of antibiotics in farming.
Slow Food, a signatory of the open letter to Hogan, has also pointed to the Agriculture Commissioner’s support for TTIP and CETA as a key area for concern. These treaties would expand the European meat export market, but would pose significant threat and competition for local food and farming networks. The letter itself is incredibly critical of Hogan’s utter disregard for the links uncovered between red meat and cancer, as well as obesity, type two diabetes, and cardiovascular disease – it urged for a halt of use of EU money to promote their meat on the world stage rather than focusing on animal welfare, public health, and the abhorrent conditions of some industrial farms in the EU:
Animal welfare is at stake too. Eight billion land animals are slaughtered each year in the EU. Most of these are kept in conditions that do not allow them to express their natural behaviors. All too often, their transport to the abattoir and their slaughter fails to respect the most basic animal welfare standards.
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The Industrial Farming Issue In The Common Agricultural Policy
Sustainability and the expansion of the meat and beef sectors are not concepts that can be pursued in parallel. The EU needs to reaffirm their commitment to public health and environmental protection, or this contradiction of policy threatens to undermine what credibility they do have. Industrial farming has made the already high levels of red and processed meat consumption possible and continuing to push the limits of the practice is a foolish endeavor. Industrial farming is a threat to food security; it encourages high resource use, increases in cropland and land use change, and excessive use of water, fertilizer, and feed. The Common Agricultural Policy should reflect that.
In the book, The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith, the case is made against the destructive practice of monoculture farming. The book heavily criticizes the beef industry, as well as industrial level farming as a whole, for the devastation of animal habitats, deforestation, altering the climate, and destroying the topsoil. The problems associated with industrial farming are far from secret, and the issue of over-fertilized land is one that is becoming ever more prominent. But it seems that between automation and the revolutionizing of agriculture through practices like vertical farming, we now have the tools to tackle this problem – on a larger scale and with better results than ever before.
The Vegetarian Myth is adamant that to save the planet, food must be grown and processed locally. De-centralization is the key to the fight against industrial scale farming.
Chris from Herbert Smith Freehills, comments:
At the end of the day the EU is an economic union before all else, it’s founded around the idea of a single market, and industrial scale agriculture has become a necessity for farmers to survive financially among increased competition. If the EU is seen as being bad for farmers, then the farmer becomes the face of anti-EU rhetoric. Look at the National Health Service (NHS) example from the Brexit referendum. The NHS became this symbol of something that [British people] just had to save from the cash guzzling EU.
The campaign to leave the EU in Britain was characterized by a false advertising campaign. It claimed that Britain spent £350 million ($445 million) on the EU every week, and that by leaving the EU we could spend it on the NHS instead. The statement has since been retracted.
The EU is in a somewhat transformative period; although it has been constantly growing, expanding, and evolving since its conception; it now has to face a fight it hasn’t had to deal with yet – it has to fight nationalism and conservatism on a scale that it has never seen before. The EU has tough decisions to make about the future, as many governments do these days, and it remains to be seen which side of the fence they will fall upon.
There are some big votes coming up in the next few years. France is the EU’s main agricultural powerhouse, so to place more restrictions on farming may give more momentum to Le Pen. The EU perhaps need to maintain such policies in order to give itself a better chance of securing its future.
Hogan isn’t wrong to promote globalization and trade; these are ideals that the EU was founded upon. The issue is the policy contradictions that plague common agricultural policy in the EU and across the world; these issues need to be addressed and dealt with before we can truly move forward. Meat is unlikely to be eradicated from human diets any time soon, but a small reduction to within healthy limits seems like a small concession for the health of the planet and the public at large. This is one of the simplest ways to fight rising emissions, and the sooner the EU Common Agricultural Policy reflects that, the better.
Josh Hamilton is an aspiring journalist from Belfast, Northern Ireland, living in London, Ontario. Lover of music, politics, tech and life.
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