|Author (Person)||Neligan, Myles|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.5, No.3, 21.1.99, p5|
|Content Type||Journal | Series | Blog|
THE European Commission will next week acknowledge more clearly than ever before that intensive farming has seriously harmed the environment.
In its blueprint for promoting 'green' agriculture once the ongoing EU farm reforms are complete, the institution will paint an alarming picture of environmental degradation in intensively farmed regions.
The document, drafted jointly by Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler and his colleague with responsibility for the environment Ritt Bjerregaard, will be unveiled next Wednesday (27 January).
It blames a threefold increase in the use of pesticides and fertilisers since the 1950s for soaring levels of phosphates and nitrates in water, noting that recommended safe levels of these contaminants are being exceeded on 87% of Union farm land.
It also warns that 157 million hectares are suffering from wind and water erosion as a result of intensive cultivation techniques, especially in the Mediterranean region.
The report makes it clear this state of affairs results in part from a failure properly to enforce existing EU laws designed to prevent environmental degradation of agricultural land.
"Agriculture is one of the most difficult economic sectors from an environmental standpoint," said a senior Bjerregaard aide. "This initiative is intended to strike a balance between farming and environmental interests, so the CAP does not undermine efforts to protect the rural environment."
The report, which is intended to pave the way for closer integration of environmental and farm policy, comes in response to demands from Union leaders at their Vienna summit in December for environmental objectives to be enshrined in agricultural laws.
Officials say that it will be followed later in the year by proposals for common environmental indicators which would facilitate the comparison of 'green' farm policies.
They add that the report, which will be discussed by farm ministers as soon as the negotiations on Agenda 2000 reforms are over, aims to encourage enforcement of the 'green' aspects of the Common Agricultural Policy overhaul.
The document hints clearly at a greater use of financial carrots and sticks in running environmental protection programmes in the EU's farming belt. It highlights existing proposals which would make the payment of some farm subsidies conditional on environmentally sustainable farming practices, and adds that "if farmers provide environmental services beyond the minimum of good agricultural practice, they should be paid for their costs and income loss in delivering these public benefits".
But the initiative is unlikely to satisfy 'green' campaigners. "If it wants to integrate environmental aims into the CAP, the Commission will have to go much further than these reforms," said Martin Rocholl, EU affairs expert at Friends of the Earth. "The environmental dimension of the reform proposals is very weak."