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MEPs vote on the future of factory farms

29 March 2019
by greenpeace -- last modified 29 March 2019

On 2 April, MEPs on the European Parliament's agriculture committee will weigh in on a European Commission plan to reform the EU’s common agricultural policy.


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The committee will vote on the rules that EU countries will have to follow when determining how to distribute subsidies to their farming sector.

The EU's common agricultural policy (CAP) has played a significant role in shaping European agriculture for the last half century, and is the single largest item in the EU's budget, accounting for 37% of the budget in 2018.

The European Commission's CAP plan's stated aim is to increase the policy's climate and environmental credentials, in order to fulfil the EU's obligations under the Paris climate agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Since health, climate change and environmental objectives play a central role in the CAP, the European Parliament decided to give its environment (ENVI) and agriculture (AGRI) committees shared responsibility for the relevant parts of the CAP.

On 14 February, the environment committee voted in favour of several amendments which, if adopted in the final CAP legislative text, would be an essential first step towards limiting intensive factory farming and addressing its substantial health, environmental and animal welfare impacts.

The European Parliament's agriculture committee will now vote on the Commission plan.

Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said: "MEPs from the agriculture committee must show if they side with family farms or factory farms. Factory farms mistreat animals, heat the climate, pollute the environment and drive small farmers out of business. Science tells us that ecological farming can get us out of this mess and that we must produce and consume less and better meat and dairy. It's time for MEPs to get with the programme and stop taxpayers' money subsidising factory farms."

The key CAP reforms supported by the environment committee are:

Legal definitions to single out factory farming

Two important definitions should be included in the CAP regulations to clarify what constitutes a factory farm:

  • A definition for "stocking density" – the number of animals that a farm has, measured in standard livestock units, per area of farmland
  • A definition for "concentrated animal feeding operations" – what we traditionally think of as factory farms

Cutting public funding for factory farms

With working definitions of factory farms, the EU could take specific measures, including:

  • Stop CAP direct payments for farms that fit the definition of "concentrated animal feed operation"
  • Make a maximum stocking density of 0.7 livestock units per hectare a condition for CAP direct payments (this target is based on the amount of land needed to safely dispose of animal manure, as laid out in the EU's Nitrates Directive, and translate as 0.14 hectares per sheep, 0.71 hectares per sow, or 1.43 hectares per dairy cow)
  • Block coupled support payments from going to livestock farms over a certain stocking density
  • Cut coupled support payments for farms that don't feed their cattle, sheep and goats grass, or let them graze outside
  • Make it a condition for CAP direct payments that animals, when they are kept indoors, must be able to comfortably stand up, turn around, and extend their limbs

Driving a transition towards sustainable livestock production

To encourage sustainable farming, the revised CAP must:

  • Include reductions of livestock density and violations of animal welfare rules as performance indicators
  • Require governments to include a target in their CAP plans for a national stocking density of under 0.7 livestock units per hectare, by the end of 2027

Public money should help farmers transition to more sustainable farming:

  • At least 30% of direct payments should finance eco-schemes – in the current Commission proposal, although national governments are required to pay for some eco-schemes, there is no minimum spending required to make sure governments take meaningful action
  • At least 40% of the CAP's rural development fund should be dedicated to climate and environmental measures – an increase from the 30% figure currently included in the Commission proposal

Small farms disappearing, big farms growing

 

Between 2005 and 2013 the EU lost 3.7 million farms – a drop of 26%. When looking just at the livestock sector, the drop was even more pronounced, with a loss of 32%, from 9 to 6.1 million farms.

 

Over the same period, livestock production increased, and between 2005 and 2013 the amount of livestock units reared on very large farms reached new records. Three quarters of all livestock units in Europe are reared on the largest category of farm. At the same time, the numbers of livestock units reared on farms of all other sizes has decreased substantially. The number of units reared on very small farms has halved.

Key findings from Greenpeace's report 'Feeding the Problem

Feeding livestock takes up over 71% of the EU's agricultural land, including both arable land and grassland.

Over 63% of the EU's arable land (used to grow crops) is used to produce animal feed, instead of food for people.

Between €28.5 and €32.6 billion in CAP payments each year reach the livestock sector either directly or via payments to land producing fodder for animals. This represents between 18% and 20% of the EU's total annual budget.

Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning network that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace. Greenpeace does not accept donations from governments, the EU, businesses or political parties.

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