EU farm policy – the common agricultural policy – serves many purposes:
- helps farmers produce sufficient quantities of food for Europe
- ensures this food is safe (for example through traceability)
- protects farmers from excessive price volatility and market crises
- helps them invest in modernising their farms
- sustains viable rural communities, with diverse economies
- creates and maintains jobs in the food industry
- protects the environment & animal welfare.
Changes in farm policy
EU farm policy has evolved considerably in recent decades to help farmers face new challenges and also in response to changing public attitudes. Successive reforms mean that farmers now base their production decisions on market demand, rather on decisions taken in Brussels.
The most recent reforms, in 2013, shifted the focus towards:
- greener farming practices
- research and the spread of knowledge
- a fairer support system for farmers
- a stronger position for farmers in the food chain.
Other important aspects are:
- helping consumers make informed choices about their food, through EU quality-labelling schemes. These labels – indicating geographical origin and the use of traditional ingredients or methods (including organic farming) – also help make EU farm products competitive on world markets
- promoting innovation in farming & food processing (aided by EU research projects) to increase productivity and reduce environmental impacts, e.g. using crop by-products and waste products to produce energy
- encouraging fair trade relations with developing countries – by suspending export subsidies for farm products and making it easier for developing countries to export their products to the EU.
World food production needs to double by 2050 to cater for population growth and wealthier consumers eating more animal products – at the same time as dealing with the impact of climate change (loss of biodiversity, deteriorating soil and water quality).
Our policy is to give farmers advice on investment and innovation, to help them with this task.
Funding European farming
Agriculture is one area of policy where EU governments have agreed to fully pool responsibility – along with the necessary public funding. So instead of policy and financial support being directed by each individual country, they are the responsibility of the EU as a whole.
As a share of the EU budget, farm spending has dropped sharply from its peak in the 1970s of nearly 70% to around 38% today. This reflects both an expansion of the EU's other responsibilities and cost savings from reforms. Since 2004, for example, the EU has welcomed 13 new member countries without any increase in farm spending.
Manuscript updated in November 2014
This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series
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