1. WHAT IS THE FOOD AND FARMING SYSTEM?

The food and farming system is the increasingly long and winding journey our food takes from field to fork. It starts with where and how it’s grown or reared, then it moves on to be processed, packaged and distributed, then put on shelves and sold, before it’s finally bought by consumers and put on our plates. 

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2. What is the CAP?

Well that’s the big billion EURO question isn’t it? In a nutshell, the CAP stands for the 'Common Agricultural Policy' and it is a big pot of money which goes to farmers and some other landowners in rural areas. The CAP makes up approximately 38 % of the EU budget – i.e. € 58 billion. This policy shapes farm practices all over Europe. It was introduced back in 1962 with the goal of increasing agricultural productivity to ensure food security and stabilise markets before being reformed several times to adapt to new challenges and priorities such as the environment. But unfortunately, and despite limited progress in some areas, successive reforms have failed to make the CAP a driver of sustainable farming.

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3. WHAT DO YOU MEAN OUR FOOD AND FARMING SYSTEM IS BROKEN?

The problem is that throughout the various stages between field and fork, there are currently many activities and practices that have very damaging consequences: economic impacts for farmers who are receiving less and less money for their products; social impacts for shrinking rural communities; and health impacts for people who need to eat better food and drink cleaner water. And all of this is before we even consider the massive environmental impacts of highly intensive farming that range from climate change to widespread loss of wildlife caused by habitat destruction, water and air pollution and soil degradation. 

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4. WHY IS THE CAP KEY TO FIXING OUR BROKEN FOOD SYSTEM?

The biggest driver behind our food system here in Europe is the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). Currently, the CAP is making our socio-economic, health and environmental problems worse by perpetuating unsustainable practices. However, with smarter policies, the CAP could actually be the best way to fix the broken system.

A reformed CAP could ensure prosperity for a new generation of empowered, nature-friendly farmers. It should ensure that farmers are rewarded for keeping our landscapes green, home to thriving wildlife, and our water and air clean; it should help renew rural areas by bringing new people into farming; and it should provide Europeans with the nutritious, safe and tasty food that we need for a healthy balanced diet.

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5. BUT THE COUNTRYSIDE ALREADY LOOKS GREEN TO ME… WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

The grass may be green, but nature is disappearing before our very eyes. Farmland bird numbers have plummeted by 55% in less than 30 years, nearly a quarter of our bumblebees – important pollinators of our food crops – are facing extinction, and many other wildlife species are also suffering.

All this is largely due to intensive agriculture: wildlife habitats are destroyed by the removal of hedges, drainage of wetlands and the loss of meadows; chemicals (used in pesticides and fertilisers) are killing bees and butterflies and polluting rivers; big changes in the calendar (e.g. earlier sowing dates, earlier harvesting and early-ripening varieties of grain) are interrupting breeding seasons; and the change from mixed farms (growing many varieties of crops) to monocultures (huge fields of one type of crop) means that many species are losing their basic food supply. Farmland covers nearly half of the EU’s land area, so this is a big, big problem.

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6. SO WHY IS THE CAP SO CONTROVERSIAL? 

The CAP is an inefficient policy, with the majority of the overall CAP budget funding damaging practices and the leftovers going to repair the damage it causes to the environment. CAP direct payments to farmers are intended to stabilise incomes in the face of volatile markets and unpredictable weather conditions. But less than a third of these subsidies are actually linked to 'Greening Measures' – sustainable farming practices intended to address environmental and climate change concerns relating to soil quality, biodiversity and natural carbon storage afforded by soils, plants and trees.

And, to make matters worse, many of these 'Greening Measures' are so poorly conceived that they are effectively 'green washing'. Meanwhile, though current rural development programmes provide investment for many commendable projects – environmental measures, organic conversion, agri-tourism and renewal of rural villages – in practice, the programmes do not go far enough. All in all, the current CAP hasn’t lived up to its ambitions and European taxpayers are paying for it three times: first for CAP subsidies, then to clean up the mess intensive agriculture is making of our environment and health, and finally when buying food.  We need to go back to the drawing board and build a CAP that truly supports both farmers and nature and is worthy of billions of taxpayers’ money.

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7. CAN FIXING THE CAP REALLY IMPROVE OUR HEALTH?

Yes, it really can! Right now, the CAP already favours certain types of food (such as meat, dairy and sugar) over others (such as fruits and vegetables) – making these 'chosen foods' more profitable for farmers and cheaper for consumers. This has problematic health consequences, so fixing this unbalance is a vital first step. Similarly, the safety of our drinking water is being jeopardized by the levels of unsafe chemicals in our rivers. Does it not make more sense to reward farmers who produce healthy and sustainably grown food and who actively protect the environment by reducing the amount of chemicals they use?

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8. BUT THE CAP WAS ALREADY REFORMED VERY RECENTLY…

The last reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was decided in 2013 and implemented in 2015, but many farmers found that the latest reforms only made complex policies more complicated! The main justification for the last reform was to make the CAP more sustainable and environmentally friendly but evidence shows that it failed to do so. By making the last CAP reform about the environment, farm ministers hoped to save the EU budget from cuts, despite never having had the intention to follow through on their green commitments.

Even the European Commission has been forced to admit that the CAP has become outdated due to major shifts in global politics and economics: agricultural prices are very volatile, market uncertainty has increased, there is a new emphasis on bilateral trade agreements over multilateral agreements, and the EU has signed up to new international commitments on climate change (21st Agreement of the Parties, COP 21) and sustainable development (the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs). And the pressure to cut the EU Budget with the UK's imminent departure from the EU has only become greater this time round.

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9. WHAT WAS THE PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON THE CAP?

The 'Consultation on modernising and simplifying the Common Agricultural policy (CAP)' was the first step taken by the European Commission to fulfil its promise to re-assess the CAP after the last failure to reform it. The consultation was open from 2 February – 2 May 2017 and took the form of an online public questionnaire to be filled out by both citizens and stakeholders (i.e. interested organisations and individuals in the food and farming sector) alike.

The goal was to collect the available evidence on the performance of the current CAP, draw lessons from the implementation of the latest reform, confirm the current difficulties and open a structured dialogue with all those concerned. The results of the questionnaire will contribute directly to the Commission's 'Impact Assessment' on the current CAP. This, along with further discussions, evidence gathering and lobbying will lead to legislative proposals for the next CAP being produced by the Commission. Over 258,708 EU citizens responded to the Living Land call for CAP reform.

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10. WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE CONSULTATION? WILL THIS MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

This public consultation was a window of opportunity to tell the European Commission that the CAP is broken and needs fundamental reform, not just incremental and aesthetic changes. It was crucial that individuals and stakeholders, from a wide range of sectors and communities, from across the EU participated in the consultation to drive home this point: we need a real shift in the way we think about our food and farming system, and a policy that supports this shift towards a genuinely sustainable agriculture. Consumers, environmentalists, progressive farmers, food and health experts, animal welfare campaigners – we must all seize this opportunity to make our voice heard.

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