A coalition of 20 different civil society groups in Europe has called on EU leaders to overhaul the bloc’s food and farming sectors and reduce the production and consumption of animal products.
The organisations argue that incentivising sustainable farming practices such as organic farming and promoting plant-based diets are essential for meeting climate goals set by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The groups voiced their concerns in a letter on Monday to European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani. The letter comes amidst negotiations for the next common agricultural policy (CAP) budget proposal, which is expected on 29 May.
In the letter, organisations including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace and Humane Society International call on the EU to “change its policies to accelerate a transition towards healthy and sustainable diets that are higher in plant-based foods and include considerably less and better produced meat, dairy and eggs.” The groups claim maintaining current levels of meat and dairy product consumption would make it “impossible to shift to more humane and less industrial farming methods.”
Each year in the EU, more than nine billion land animals are raised for food. The letter argues this type of “intensive animal farming” carries significant health risks, including the spread of diseases such as swine and avian flu and the development of antimicrobial resistance.
The letter also cites the environmental impacts of current animal farming methods. According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) data cited in the letter, animal farming accounts for more than 14% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. The letter therefore argues, “Reducing meat, dairy and egg production and consumption is crucial to meet the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement.”
Based on these concerns, the groups urged EU institutions to “carry out a comprehensive assessment of the health and environmental impacts of the industrial animal farming sector and formulate clear policy recommendations.”
However, top EU officials will likely oppose such agricultural policy reforms, according to The Guardian. When asked how the EU could encourage reduced beef and dairy product consumption, EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan reportedly said there is “no evidence whatsoever” of a strong link between the consumption of animal products and greenhouse gas emissions.
The EU presidency said last week that the CAP provides “safe, high-quality food” and contributes “to a fair standard of living for farmers” while also “protecting the environment [and] mitigating and adapting to climate change.”
Various environmental groups disagree with those statements and have argued EU leaders are unconcerned with the impacts of what they view as destructive farming practices.
“The whole system is in a state of denial,” Ariel Brunner, head of policy at Birdlife Europe, told The Guardian. “Most agriculture ministers across Europe are just pushing for business as usual. The message is, keep the subsidies flowing.”