What Kind of Future?
European agriculture is in the midst of a radical transformation. Small-scale family farms — for centuries the backbone of European economic and social vitality — are disappearing at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, industrial, factory-style operations are proliferating, to the detriment of the economy, the environment, and food safety.
The interlocking forces of industrial farming and agribusiness consolidation are changing the face of Europe‚ farming culture. The number of farms in the European Union fell from 7.4 million in 1995 to 6.7 million in 2000. France had 3 million farms in 1970. Today it has just 600,000. Millions of farming jobs have been lost across the continent.
Factory-style hog production is inundating northern Poland, the French region of Bretagne, and the Spanish regions of Catalonia and Valencia. And industrial poultry operations aggressively are moving into Germany‚ Weser-Ems area with plans for factory farms housing more than 10 million animals.
The main beneficiaries of this new industrial farming model are multinational food processors and marketers such as Danone, Kraft and Sara Lee, which convert low-quality raw materials from factory farms into mass-produced processed foods. All the while, rural economies, environmental protection, food quality, and animal welfare conditions suffer.
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At the heart of the problem is the Common Agricultural Policy (or CAP). In recent years, the CAP has been skewed to reward industrial operations at the expense of small, scale, family farms. In 2005, 85 percent of subsidies went to the largest 18 percent of farms.
Food & Water Europe is working with farming, consumer, environmental, and animal welfare organizations to reform European agriculture to protect rural communities, public health, and food safety.