Memorandum submitted by Greenpeace (A41)
For agriculture to be truly sustainable, the
aim must be to create a system of food production and distribution
that provides wholesome food, does not damage the environment,
protects landscape and provides social and economic benefits to
farmers and rural communities.
The requirement of the Commission's terms of
reference that the Commission's advice to be consistent with "the
Government's aims for CAP reform, enlargement of the EU and increased
trade liberalisation" will not permit the Commission to consider
all the possible scenarios for the future development of farming
and the food sector.
This constraint will prevent the development
of coherent policy advice, as the creation of a sustainable farming
sector that is also consistent with trade liberalisation is unlikely
to be achievable. Agriculture produces commodities, but also livelihoods,
cultures and ecological benefits, so the products of farming cannot
simply be treated as goods whose price can be set by supply and
demand. The role of farming is far more complex.
The Commission must develop a policy that will
create a genuinely sustainable future for farming and food production.
Policy decisions on the future of farming and
food should aim to limit the environmental impact of agriculture
and food distribution on both the UK and the global environment.
The intensification of farming that resulted
from post-war policies to increase food production has produced
more food at lower apparent costs but has changed our countryside
dramatically. Hedgerows have been removed, unimproved grasslands
ploughed up, wetlands drained and pesticides and fertilisers have
been extensively applied with a consequent loss of landscape features,
dramatic loss of biodiversity, soil degradation and contamination
of water. Industrialised farming has also led to harm to human
health through BSE, food poisoning and antibiotic overuse.
The cost of remediating these environmental
and health effects of conventional farming has been estimated
to be in the region of £2.34 billion for 1996 alone.1 The
costs of these externalities, including cleaning pesticides and
nitrates out of drinking water, the clear up costs of BSE, restoration
of landscape and biodiversity loss are not included in the price
of food and are currently borne by the public in the form of taxes.
To reduce environmental damage more environmentally
sustainable forms of farming, including organic farming should
be actively encouraged. Ultimately UK food production should be
100 per cent organic but we recognise that farmers will not be
in a position to switch to organic farming in the short term.
We therefore support moves to more environmentally sustainable
practices in the interim. These environmentally less damaging
farming methods should be promoted by switching from production
based subsidies, which tend to encourage intensification, to subsidies
for sustainable farming practices, which promote practices that
do not damage the environment.
This shift in subsidy should not however operate
so as to assist the creation of conservation and amenity managed
farmland at the expense of sustainable food production. There
must be a link between subsidies for sustainable farming practice
and use of the land for food production. If not, we are likely
to face the situation of conserving farmland for wildlife, diminished
food production in the UK and increased importation of our food,
whilst destroying the environment in other parts of the world.
Organic agricultural systems limit their impact
on the environment by operating within closed cycling systems
using local resources, thus minimising the use of non-renewable
resources and avoiding pollution. A recent study compared the
sustainability of organic, conventional and integrated crop management
production systems for apple growing in the USA and found the
organic system ranked first for environmental and economic sustainability,
with the integrated second, and the conventional system last.2
Organic farming is estimated to have substantially
lower externalities than conventional farming (£60 to £70
per hectare compared with £208 per hectare for conventional
farming).3 This alone is a powerful reason to encourage farmers
to convert to organic farming.
Whilst yields of organic crop varieties can
be lower than yields from conventional varieties, a major contributor
to the difference in production levels is that greater investment
in research and development over a longer period has gone into
conventional agriculture. For example, wheat grown organically
is less productive than when grown conventionally yet oats and
triticale have similar yields whether grown conventionally or
organically. This is because currently used wheat varieties have
short stalks and an open canopy which compete less well with weeds
than the taller oats and triticale.4 More money should be channelled
into research and development of organic crop varieties and into
organic management systems.
Consumer demand for organic food has increased
dramatically over the past decade and now considerably exceeds
current production levels in the UK. Soil Association figures
show that we currently import 75 per cent of our organic produce,5
frequently by air with the consequent impact on climate caused
by air transportation.6
The size of the UK organic sector, currently
about 1 per cent, should be increased to meet demand by increasing
the amount of financial support available to assist farmers to
convert and by supporting farmers after the conversion period
with payments for environmentally sustainable management.
All the signs so far are that genetically modified
(GM) crops may have severe implications for the environment. Many
of these crops have been designed to tolerate heavy doses of herbicides
encouraging the continued use of environment damaging pesticides.
Herbicide tolerant crops have already, after only a few generations,
been shown to lead to the development of weeds resistant to three
common herbicides requiring farmers to use stronger herbicides
to eradicate them.7 There is evidence that insect resistant GM
crops such as Bt corn can damage non-target insects.8 There are
also concerns about the contamination of closely related crops
and weeds by cross pollination and contamination of soils and
ground water by GM pollution.9 Unlike other forms of contamination,
genetic pollution cannot simply be cleaned up once released into
GM technology is incompatible with organic farming.
UK and EU organic standards do not permit the use of the technology
in organically certified produce. The risk of cross-pollination
of organic crops by GM crops, something which the government says
is impossible to avoid10 makes the development of both GM technology
and organic farming incompatible. Yet organically grown crops
are what many consumers would prefer to eat and unlike farming
with GM crops it is a farming method that is environmentally sustainable.
The ability of farmers and consumers to choose organic food and
farming should not be put at risk by continuing to develop GM
The UK should be meeting its needs for food
as far as possible with as little damage as possible, not only
to the UK environment, but also to the global environment. Yet
current Government policy with its support for increasingly freer
trade across the globe is encouraging the opposite.
As figures for imports and exports indicate,
the UK is a net importer of food and reliance on imports is increasing
year on year, the deficit between exports and imports was £3.5
billion in 1980, £5.9 billion in 1990 and £8.3 billion
in 1999.11 By moving to ever increasing reliance on imports for
UK food supply we are simply exporting the problems of intensive
chemical agriculture to other parts of the globe.
Whilst food products can currently be brought
more cheaply from other parts of the world, this is because environmental,
animal health and social welfare standards are lower than in the
UK. But this importation of food will be unsustainable in the
long term when communities in the developing world also, quite
rightly, start asking for the same levels of environmental protection
and welfare standards that we expect.
The increasing globalisation of the trade in
agricultural products and the removal of tariffs and other barriers
to trade means that more food is being transported across the
world, frequently by air, at considerable cost to the environment,
particularly the climate. International freight transport is projected
to rise from 1992 levels of 29 trillion tonnes per kilometre to
49 trillion tonnes per kilometre, a 70 per cent increase, by 2004.12
The transportation of 1kg of apples from New
Zealand to the UK has been calculated to lead to the production
of 1kg of CO2 emissions whereas the home delivery of locally sourced
apples via a box scheme produces less than 50g of CO2. Imports
now represent over three-quarters of the dessert apples consumed
in the UK. This move away from self-sufficiency in apples has
resulted in a 2.9 fold increase in fossil fuel energy consumption
to transport apples.13 Over 60 per cent of UK apple orchards have
been lost since 197014, this is mainly due to the availability
of Government payments to farmers to grub up their orchards. Yet
apples are well suited to the climate and the UK could easily
be self sufficient in apples.
As with apples the UK could become self sufficient
in many other vegetables and fruits as well as in meat and dairy
products. Over 50 per cent of imports are fruit and vegetables15,
many of which could be grown in the UK. The UK capacity to grow
vegetables and fruit should be increased by support for their
sustainable production. This is not to say that we should not
be importing produce like mangoes, coffee and bananas that cannot
be grown here. Although clearly a reduction in the consumption
of exotic fruits would reduce transport effects on the environment
as this produce is frequently flown into the UK.
The exchange of similar food stuffs between
EU member countries highlights further the unnecessary movements
of food products, with their tremendous impact on the environment.
In 1997 for example, 126 million litres of liquid milk was imported
into the UK and at the same time 270 million litres of milk was
exported out of the UK. 23,000 tonnes of milk power was imported
into the UK and 153,000 tonnes was exported out.16
The encouragement of long distance trade by
the UK government and the Common Agricultural Policy should be
replaced with support for more localised food production and consumption
and economic disincentives for long distance transport.
As well as the impact of CO2 emissions on climate
change, the environmental costs of global, regional and national
food distribution include air pollution, loss of biodiversity
through road construction and fuel extraction. All of these costs
are currently externalised and the long distance transportation
of food is not reflected in the price of produce to the consumer.
The development of "just in time"
retailing by the supermarkets with their complex networks of distribution
centres and daily deliveries to store has a considerable impact
on the environment due to extensive, mainly road, transportation
of foods around the country.17
The movement of supermarkets to the edge of
towns has caused damage to the environment, due to construction
on green field sites, increased road construction for access and
increased vehicles movements by consumers to out of town locations.
Out of town supermarkets development has also
led to the destruction of local economies and the closure of local
independent retailers and specialist food stores. The number of
independent food retailers fell from 400,000 in 1986 to 200,000
in 1996.18 This destruction of local shopping opportunities has
helped to deliver food poverty to those without the means or health
to travel to out of town supermarkets. The few local stores remaining
in many areas often have poor quality and little choice of produce
together with high prices.
Supermarkets also set standards that small producers
cannot meet. For example artisanal cheese makers find it difficult
to sell to supermarkets, as the supermarkets require large quantities
which small producers cannot supply, they have buy back policies
which small producers can't risk the potential losses of 19. Small
producers are thereby excluded from mainstream markets.
Localisation of food production and distribution
The development of local markets for locally
produced food products will reap the environmental gains of reduced
transportation of foods. It will also do much more for the food
and farming sector in terms of providing alternative outlets for
the sale of food produce allowing farmers to find an alternative
to the stranglehold of the supermarket. It will strengthen the
economic reasons for environment friendly farming, as produce
sales will be based on relationships built up between farmers
and local consumers. Rural jobs will be generated not only on
farms but also in local processing and retailing and the value
of local produce will be retained within the community, helping
to rebuild vibrant rural communities.
To move away from reliance on sales to supermarkets
and to diversify into new markets producers will need training,
support and advice in marketing and selling skills and the resources
to develop their businesses.
Support for the building of local infrastructure
such as abattoirs and local food processing plants will be needed.
The diversification of the rural sector into
light industrial or telecottages, as envisaged by the Rural White
paper and moves to change the planning regulations to encourage
that diversification, will simply cause more farmers to leave
the land. Rural planning regulations should support local sustainable
food businesses like farm shops and small processors to get off
the ground rather than turn over farm buildings to industrial
use. Diversification away from food production will also make
it impossible for new start-ups in farming as land and property
prices will move even further out of the reach of small farmers
and those who want to move on to the land and start farming.20
There should also be support for newcomers to help start up sustainable
farming and food processing businesses.
The plan for the revitalisation of the former
market town of Faringdon, Oxfordshire as a rural hub, which will
develop and apply the principles of sustainable agricultural systems,
with the aim that the town and its hinterland will become self
sufficient in food, fuel and fibre products is an ambitious and
visionary project21. The project is supported by the South East
England Development Agency, other regional development agencies
should also be working with local communities to develop similar
sustainable rural development plans and putting them into action.
Concentration of power in the food chain
There is a concentration of power in the food
chain, with the supermarkets wielding most of that power to the
detriment of farmers, particularly small farmers with limited
Supermarkets now control most of the retail
food sales in the UK, with the five major supermarkets controlling
more than 70 per cent of grocery sales.22 Small scale and specialist
producers are at a great disadvantage within the present supply
chain. Farmers have become locked into selling to the supermarkets
because there are currently very few markets for produce except
the supermarkets. Supermarkets are as a consequence able to dictate
farm gate prices. They can force farmers into selling for less
than the cost of production by threatening to import cheaper food
from other parts of the world. For example, a major supermarket
has told farmers in Cornwall and Jersey wishing to sell their
crops of new potatoes at a price of £100 tonne that they
can buy potatoes from Egypt at £70.00 tonne.23 The UK farmer
then faces the prospect of selling at this lower price, or faces
the prospect of loss of their whole crop as they have no other
outlet to turn to which can absorb the volume of produce available.
Of course they sell at the price demanded by the supermarket.
A legally binding code of practice to ensure
that farmers get a fair price for their produce should be developed,
in order to tip the balance of power from retailers towards farmers
and thereby increase equity and sustainability in the food chain.
Support should be given to farmers to develop
partnerships and co-operatives which will give farmers more bargaining
power to help redress the balance of power between farmers and
retailers and will help farmers develop new markets for regional
or local produce.
Who is going to be left to farm the land?
Current Government policy appears to favour
fewer and larger farms at the expense of the small farmer. Subsidies
are skewed heavily in favour of large farms (80 per cent of subsidy
goes to the largest 20 per cent of farms). The "farm gate
price" is set by large food processors, distributors and
supermarkets. Farmers say they can't deliver landscape, nature,
food safety and animal welfare at these prices. Twenty cows yield
£50,000 worth of milk at retail prices yet small dairy farmers
can't survive as they are paid less than the price of production
for the milk as it leaves the farm, the balance of the price the
consumer pays goes to the middlemen and retailers. Farmers are
estimated to receive nine pence in the pound of the price paid
by consumers.24 Evidence from the Canadian National Farmers Union
suggest that concentration of power in the food supply chain and
the consequent low farm gate prices are the main drivers of unsustainable
The recent report by accountants Deloitte and
Touche indicates that farm incomes have fallen from £80,000
in 1995-96 to £2,400 in 2001 for a 500 acre farm.26 Farmers
are going out of business and committing suicide at increasing
rates and most of those leaving the industry are smaller farmers.27
Forty-two thousand people have left agriculture in the last two
years. There are only 155,000 farms left in the UK. Predictions
are that over the next five to 15 years there will only be around
eight to 15,000 people left farming the land in the UK28. This
movement of smaller farmers off the land and the inevitable creation
of larger farms should be reversed and quickly if we are to create
a sustainable farming and food sector.
There is a paucity of research in the UK on
the benefits of small farms but in the USA, the USDA Commission
on small farms concluded in their report that the policies that
have favoured large corporate farms with their destructive environmental
practices and damage to rural communities must be changed to favour
instead smaller farms.29
Small farms are multifunctional, producing not
only food but also benefiting the environment and improving the
economic and social wealth of the communities in which they are
situated.30 Smaller farms are more likely to be family farms which
are passed from one generation to another where long-term sustainability
of the farm is relatively more important to the farmer compared
with larger farms which often have absentee owners. In the United
States small farmers keep 17 per cent of their land as woodland,
on larger farms the figure is on five per cent. They also maintain
more than twice as much land with cover crops and green manures.31
Subsidies and other incentives should be directed
preferentially to smaller farms, as they tend to be more sustainable
than large farms. The EU has within the CAP given discretion to
governments to direct subsidies to smaller farms (modulation),
but the UK government has so far rejected this route to assisting
small farmers preferring to continue subsidising the largest farmers.
The dialogue on sustainable agriculture should
The time for consultation and for the preparation
of the Commission's report has been far too short for a full and
wide ranging consideration of this complex issue. The Commission
should propose that a Standing Royal Commission bet set up to
investigate and report on how sustainability in the food and farming
sector can be achieved in the long-term. The setting up of a standing
Royal Commission will give greater opportunity for submissions
to be made, research to be carried out and in-depth evidence to
be given to the Commission by all stakeholders, on how sustainability
can be achieved in agriculture, the rural economy and in the food
production and distribution sectors.
The countryside should be vibrant place with
the production of food key to the economy, with small farms providing
fresher local produce, using environmentally benign farming methods,
providing livelihoods for farmers and increased employment and
services for rural communities.
The following policy areas are key to this vision
for the future of farming:
1. Build safeguards into international trade
agreements on agriculture in order to protect the environmental,
social and economic sustainability of farming.
2. Shift subsidies to support methods of
farming which are less damaging to the environment.
3. Encourage greater conversion to organic
4. Develop the infrastructure of local food
5. Control the power of the supermarkets.
6. Halt the decline of the small farm by
supporting small farmers.
7. Set up a Standing Royal Commission on
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5 Soil Association. Organic Food and Farming
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6 Simms et al. Collision course: free trade's
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