The mundane sounding consultation “Modernising and Simplifying the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)” launched on February 2nd, is the starting shot for years of fierce negotiations in Brussels, Strasbourg and national capitals. As regards the CAP, as well as other parts of the post-2020 EU budget, a lot is at stake for health. With Brexit taking one of the major players out of the game and mixing up the usual rules, there is everything to play for.

The CAP consultation is a key opportunity to put on the table, once again, all the profound implications agriculture and our food supply pose for public health. Agricultural policy is not just a concern for farmers, industries and commodity markets. The implications of policy choices affect society as a whole, and should be reflected in how public money is spent.

To win public acceptance, health must become a goal of Europe’s future food and farms policy. As some CAP-veterans have noted, the scope of the consultation launched this year is far less ambitious than the one produced during the previous reform cycle (which did by the way not yield the required transformations).  In the upcoming negotiations though, there is a real possibility that the budgetary imperatives linked to Brexit, migration and climate change may overtake these low ambitions.  

Lots of long overdue questions have not been asked in the consultation: How long can taxpayers keep footing the bill for the health and environmental costs of livestock overproduction? How can agricultural policy create the economic preconditions to effectively fight drug resistance (AMR)? How can rural residents, farmers, farm workers and consumers be better protected from exposure to chemical risks? Why should large-scale vineyards still receive productivity support? Can we finally exclude tobacco cultivation from receiving subsidies? How can agricultural policy better facilitate supply-demand interactions for sustainable, nutritionally healthy diets? How to ensure farmers can receive adequate incomes for being true guardians of food quality, rural cultures, landscapes and wider public goods?

These questions are more than relevant for those fighting diseases, providing healthcare services and seeking to prevent the collapse of health systems.

The CAP is widely perceived as the worst of EU pork-barrel politics. With the stakes for the future of the EU at an all-time high, the future direction of food policy is a major test of Europe’s ability to deliver public goods for public money.

Nikolai Pushkarev

Policy Coordinator for Food, Drink and Agriculture

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