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EU farm policy – the common agricultural policy – serves many purposes: it helps farmers not just to produce food, but also protect the environment and animal welfare and sustain viable rural communities.

Focus on quality & sustainability

Parmesan cheese © Van Parys Media

Authentic Parmesan cheese is stamped with an EU quality label.

EU farm policy evolved considerably since the 1960s to help farmers face new challenges. Today, the focus is on:

  • enabling farmers to produce enough safe, high-quality food (cereals, meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables, wine…) for European consumers, contribute to a diversified rural economy and apply the highest standards of care concerning  the environment and farm animals
  • helping consumers make informed choices about their food, through voluntary EU quality-labelling schemes. These labels – indicating geographical origin, use of traditional ingredients or methods (including organic) – also help make EU farm products competitive on world markets
  • promoting innovation in farming and 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.
Market © Bilderbox

Wide choice at a fair price is a fundamental principle of EU farm policy.

Facing the future

Future challenges include the need to double world food production by 2050 to cater for population growth and wealthier consumers eating more meat, at the same time as dealing with the impact of climate change (loss of biodiversity, deteriorating soil and water quality).

In response to these challenges, and listening to the wishes of European citizens, our 2013 reforms shifted the focus of EU farm policy towards:

  • greener farming practices
  • innovation, research and the spread of knowledge
  • a fairer support system for farmers
  • a stronger position for farmers in the food chain.

An important part of the EU budget

Agriculture is one area of policy where EU countries have agreed to fully pool responsibility – along with a large share of public financing. So instead of farm spending being directed by each individual country, it is run by the EU. 

The idea is to ensure secure and safe food supplies for Europeans in all member countries. At the same time, farmers get help to modernise their farms and  tackle challenges such as adverse climate conditions and market crises.

As a share of the EU budget, farm spending has dropped sharply from its 1970s peak of nearly 70% around 40% today. This reflects both an expansion of the EU's other responsibilities and cost savings from reforms. Since 2004, 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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