Family farmers, environmental campaigners and scientists are being massively outspent by the influential agribusiness lobby as policy-makers discuss the future of EU funding
The future of the Common Agricultural Policy post-2013 is now being debated by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. They are discussing, among other things, a European Commission proposal to allocate €4.5bn for agricultural research. The proposal, which doubles the amount available previously, will have long-lasting significance. The research projects that are prioritised and funded through this budget are likely to have a decisive impact on the shape and form of agriculture in the future.
This issue is crucial because European agriculture is at a crossroads. Decades of ever-intensifying agricultural practices have taken a heavy toll on our natural environment, depleting soils and polluting water courses. Europe's dependence on imported soy for animal feed is also causing huge damage to the environment in South America, putting pressure on the rainforests and forcing local farming communities off the land. As the EU's environment commissioner Janez Potocnik put it: "Reconciling agriculture and the environment is possible and it is also very much needed, not just for agriculture, not just for the environment, but for the survival of all of us – the human race and the species we share this planet with."
This is why Corporate Europe Observatory investigated the role of the agribusiness lobby in the debate about future research. Our new report, Agribusiness CAPturing EU research money?
, explains the stakes of the reform, the lobbying arguments used, and tries to give a sense of where the battle is and what will its outcomes likely be. On the one hand, businesses that benefit from the current industrial farming model want more of the same. They are calling for research to boost productivity and global competitiveness, not only for food but for the so-called 'bioeconomy', an approach that sees plants as raw material for a range of products from plastics to fuel.
Behind this approach is a de facto alliance bringing together companies producing the key ingredients of the traditional industrial farming model: pesticides, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, biotechnology and agricultural machinery, as well as trade associations. Mainstream farmers' organisations such as COPA-COGECA have taken similar positions, and downstream companies such as traders, big food producers and supermarkets also appear to support this line. On the other hand, a loose grouping of family farmers, consumers, environmental organisations, scientists and public bodies are trying to promote new ideas and practices to reconcile food production with environmental limits and social well-being. Given the possibilities and risks brought about by recent technological developments in the sector, the stakes could not be higher, not just in the EU but globally.
Who will prevail? Looking at the wording of the proposals on the table, and at the fire-power of the groups involved, the likely outcome seems clear. Agribusiness lobby groups outspend their opponents by at least four to one, and their unrivalled resources and political weight have put their vision for the future of farming at the top of the EU's priorities. This is despite promising alternatives, growing evidence and a relative scientific consensus that such a policy is failing and will continue to fail. Unless this issue gains traction, a vast pot of taxpayers' money will be captured by corporate interests and used to further profit from the exploitation of the natural world. A final decision on the CAP and Horizon 2020, the relevant texts, is expected late this year or early 2013.Martin Pigeon is a researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory