Last Monday, the 27th of February, four members of the Dutch Youth Food Movement (part of the Slow Food Youth Movement, SFYN) visited Brussels to talk with six different stakeholders about the developments of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Without exaggerating it must have been a historical event at itself: four young women who want to talk about the European agricultural policy.
The reason for this trip is the SFYN’s international campaign ‘CAP2013: Food for Change’. This campaign aims to open up the public debate on the future of food in Europe, using the coming reforms of the CAP as a trigger. Because, as the SFYN is promoting: agriculture is an essential part of our food system.
During our trip to Brussels we have met many different stakeholders, as we believe that it is important to hear all sides of the story. We talked to a government official of the Permanent Representation of the Netherlands Mr. Frits Thissen. Afterwards we spoke with the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture (LTO), the European organization for farmers and co-operatives (Copa-Cogeca) and a multinational company in producing food and non-food products Unilever. At the end of the day we had the chance to discuss the CAP with Bas Eickhout of The Greens of the European Parliament and the environmental NGO Birdlife.
Lessons on the CAP
The CAP will be reformed in 2013. This is a crucial year, as the Council and the European Parliament both have to agree on the reforms of the CAP. The meetings with the different stakeholders showed us several important issues:
30% green farming
The European Commission has proposed that 30% of the direct payments for farmers has to be used for greening purposes. Those who lobby for the farmers believe that it is a tight criterion. LTO and Coga-Cogeca propose to change the level of implementation from enterprise level to region level. Furthermore they propose the possibility to choose from more greening options based on the local circumstances.
Those who find the ecological focus essential in the CAP believe that this is not the best way to reach genuine greening objectives. Moreover, they wonder why only 30% should be regarded as greening measures, as "These are payments for service to the public”. However, at the moment the stakeholders in favor of greening even hope that the greening measures will remain 30% of the direct payments (and not less).
Three different EU’s
The diversity in weather, landscape and agricultural history between the European Member States is immense, making the ‘one size fits all method’ impossible. The differences between the different EU countries is recognizable in the European Parliament too. Broadly, the Southern Europeans, North West Europeans and Central/Eastern Europeans have teamed-up in order to carry out and lobby for their distinct views on CAP. This results in different clusters within the European Parliament, especially when it comes to discussions about the direct payments.
This divide between the three main regions within the European Union confirm the need to overcome differences and look for solutions and opportunities to work together in developing a sustainable food system for all European countries. One of the main challenges of the ‘CAP2013: Food for Change’ campaign is to bring the vision of 12 different YFM’s from 12 different European countries together, to propose a shared vision on the future of our food.
Europe has more than 13 million farmers, who all need to fight for a space in the supermarket for their products. This competition makes it very difficult to raise prices. Farmers are highly depended of the food processing industry and retail companies, which makes it easy for these huge 'middle men' together with the supermarket operators to set the price of food. United farmers in coöperations can be succesfull in demanding fair prices for their products by standing strong together. However, according to the Copa-Cogeca this practice is difficult to implement in all European Member States.
The SFYN sees a role in creating awareness on this problem, by broadening the knowledge of the consumer on the real price of food products. Food should be important enough to pay the fair price, in order for it to be good and healthy. In addition SFYN sees that there should be a holistic approach to food policy instead of the focus on agricultural policy, as other factors like trade, health and environment are also connected to the production and consumption of food.
We conclude that our trip to Brussels has been very inspirational and informative. Being close to the heart of European policy was very exciting for us. We believe that it is important to stay in contact with as many stakeholders as possible. To really work for a good, clean and fair food system it is greatly necessary to cooperate with all involved actors. The appealing though complex part of this approach is that we are all stakeholders within the debate on food and agriculture. Farmers, supermarkets and consumers, the Common Agriculture Policy concerns everybody .
As the Slow Food Youth Network we believe it is important for young people to learn more about the food system, as it is a great part of our future. We want to not only create awareness, but also give young people a voice within the public debate on food. Fresh and new ideas and insights are needed to change the paradigm and search for sustainable solutions to better the current food system.
So join us at the Big Debate on Agriculture on the 17th of March during the Food Film Festival at Studio/K in Amsterdam.
The YFM delegation that went to Brussels were Inge de Boer, Eszter Tóth, Marleen Brouwer and Melissa Marijnen.
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