Progressive taxes on pesticides can save both agriculture and nature

Contributon By the Butterfly foundation

To secure the future of agriculture and nature in Europe, a tax on artificial fertilizers, pesticides and imported fodder is necessary. This stated professor Frank Berendse today in a letter in the renowned scientific magazine Nature.

An enormous loss of biodiversity and numbers of birds, insects, and plants is happening in fields and meadows of Western Europe. The intensification of agriculture is one of the most important causes of this loss. This loss has an enormous impact on the services which the nature provides to the agricultural sector, like natural pest control and pollination.

Immediately after the second world war the European agricultural policy was focused on the large-scale, food production against low costs. The prevention of famine was the primary ambition. The government insisted on maximum  intensification of the agricultural process. Reallocation, artificial fertilizers and pesticides increased the agricultural production further and stimulated efficient techniques which led to a decline of employment.

In 1984 70% of the European Union budget was spent on this kind of agriculture. However, this has declined to 40% of the budget. This percentage will probably be reduced further, for instance because of the high expenses of the immigration policy. Despite all the changes in the Common Agricultural Policy it’s still disastrous for both agriculture itself and nature in Europe.

Frank Berendse, Emeritus professor at the University of Wageningen, suggests in his letter in ‘Nature’ magazine to fundamentally reform the new Common agricultural Policy as from 2020 to be able to ensure the future of  European Agriculture and nature. He recommends a new progressive tax on artificial fertilizers, pesticides and imported fodder, charged per surface unit of land.

When this levy will be progressive enough, they will compensate for the lower crop yields trough lower production costs and a greater market share. Logically food prices will increase, because the true costs of pollution and the loss of biodiversity have not yet been charged to consumer prices. But there will be a choice in the supermarket, because true sustainable products will cost less than products with high inputs like pesticides.

Berendse suggests to include this taxes in a third pillar of the CAP. This will make the CAP more balanced, because farmers who provide societal services will be rewarded for their efforts (like cutting hedges) and the polluter will have to pay. This will lead to remarkable, price driven changes in the selling of sustainable products. This will make healthy and ‘clean’ food available for every European.

Moreover every move forward of a farmer towards the reduction of pesticides, imported soya or antibiotics will be rewarded with a better price,  better market position and a stronger public support. Nature conservation and environmental organizations support this solution and advocating a proper calculation of the (social) economic effects of such a scheme. The common position  about the revision of the CAP can be found on this website.



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