Co-funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.
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The idea behind the Rift is simple: for each topic of debate, we provide you with an expertise based on a pro-con approach, written by competent and legitimate experts. We want to help you make your own opinion, and guide you on first steps to civic engagement.
Environmental rules are essential to tackle climate change and virtuous for our long-term competitiveness
Associate Professor in agricultural economics at the Angers University
Letting go of the cross-compliance rules of the CAP (Common agricultural policy), even in the context of a decrease in food production in Europe because of the war, would be a mistake.
Many elements in the cross-compliance rules are based on common agronomic sense
We are currently facing huge challenges related to climate change, especially regarding biodiversity loss. There is an urgent need to alter the farming industry if we want to tackle these problems. We are in the situation of a food crisis, but the environmental crisis we are going through will cause even more problems. If we delay our actions to protect the environment, it will be too late. Cross-compliance rules should therefore not be managed on a short-term basis, because these rules will produce long-term positive impacts on the environment.
Furthermore, environmental standards do not always lead to yield losses. On the contrary, many elements of the cross-compliance rules are based on common agronomic sense and can generate production surplus in the medium term. For instance, cover crops contribute to good soil management, which ultimately helps produce more. We can also mention agro-ecological infrastructures that host crop auxiliaries that help reduce the number of pests. As such, cross-compliance rules do not necessarily result in yield losses.
We underestimate other factors which could explain our poor competitiveness
Moreover, the solution would not be to have fewer environmental rules or to get rid of the cross-compliance system in Europe, but to have more rules in the rest of the world to make sure that European products would not be in competition with food supplies produced in poorer conditions. This raises the question of carbon border tax and mirror clauses, which would impose rules on production systems in other countries.
If some European agricultural products are not competitive in comparison with supplies coming from other continents, it is not because of cross-compliance rules. We underestimate other factors which could explain our poor competitiveness, such as our climate and our soil, but also our workforce: fewer and fewer people want to work in the farming industry. We focus too much on environmental rules. They hide much bigger problems for the industry. It is not through lowering our environmental standards that European productions will suddenly become more competitive.
Incentives to greener agricultural practices can reduce environmental impacts while increasing nutritional gains
When farmers argue that their yield loss is obvious when they have to respect more rules related to environmental protection, it is because they are thinking of the transitional period. However, once this adaptation period of the production systems has passed, these systems become more resilient and can be just as productive. We know for a fact that farmers can gain higher income after an ecological transition.
Some will say that what really is at stake is to keep producing as much quantity. The other debate thus is whether what matters more is the quantity produced, or the nutrient intakes generated. Even if yields are reduced, if nutrient intakes increase, we have a clear nutritional gain. Incentives to greener agricultural practices in the CAP can reduce environmental impacts while increasing nutritional gains of the European agricultural production.
We cannot give up on producing more food in such an unstable international context
Economist, French Chambers of Agriculture, Research Associate at the University of Reims
The European Union probably is the only region of the world that has made the environment its main priority in the past few years. Reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy are emblematic of this ambition to bring farmers to rally in the fight against global warming through changing their cultivation and breeding practices and accepting cross-compliance to receive subsidies for their work. The climax of this strategy is the European Green Deal (signed in 2019), especially with its Farm to Fork scheme. Nothing seemed to be able to keep the EU off this path.
Some countries have to produce more in order to make up for the missing supply from Ukraine
Two events have nevertheless altered the EU ambition, despite its persistence to maintain its strategy. The Covid pandemic is the first element: it showed how dependent we are on food supplies coming from other countries. The lockdowns and partial stop of maritime transport globally have weakened countries that heavily relied on imports to feed their population. France has not been spared by this new awareness, particularly regarding its dependence on plant-based proteins, which are essential to feed livestock and to produce meat and milk.
The war in Ukraine is the second element and has brought this awareness to its peak. Russia is one of the biggest producers and exporters of fertilizers, oil, gas, as well as sunflower oil and cattle cake. As a consequence, some proposals have been issued to identify how the EU could reorganize its food production in order to rely less on fertilizer and energy supplies. Moreover, some countries are very dependent on Ukraine and Russia to access food (wheat, corn, sunflower oil…) such as Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Somalia… The war thus raised a new question: which countries would be capable of producing more in order to make up for the missing supply from Ukraine?
The EU must not lose sight of its role in contributing to the vital balance of the planet
This is why, right after the war started, some people raised their voice to warn the European Commission against these food supplies threats. Their suggestion was to temporarily put on hold actions to protect the environment, and thus allow farmers to produce larger quantities and thus meet global demand and address the risk of famine and food insecurity in several regions of the world, as well as the risk of geopolitical conflict.
If the year 2022 thankfully ended without a radical disruption in the world food production and supplies, 2023 might know a different fate. As a consequence, we cannot give up on producing more food in such an unstable international context. This trajectory is not in contradiction with environmental issues, since in the EU, farmers have already changed their agricultural practices, especially with the reduction of pesticides use in the past few years. Nevertheless, we need to keep our production level to avoid situations like food riots (2009) or Arab Spring (2011).
If the EU intends to become a normative global power in environmental protection, it must not lose sight of its role in contributing to the vital balance of the planet. As the first agricultural power of the EU, France thus has an essential role to play.