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Time to change the European Common Agricultural Policy: addressing meat over-production and consumption!

What is the European Common Agricultural policy doing about it?

The latest estimate of cancer mortality attributable to diets high in red- and processed meat is over 34,000 deaths per year [1]. Animal farming also contributes to 18% of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.[2] In the EU27, 29% of GHG emissions are coming from beef production and 25% from pork production[3]. This accounts for more than half of the total emissions attributable to the livestock sector.

Halving meat and dairy consumption could curb agricultural GHG emissions in the EU by up to 42%[4], while improving population health.

The incoherence of the current policy framework

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a 184-page legislation that most people will never read. But the content of this policy affects everybody and everybody’s future, since it determines which agricultural activities of the EU Member States will be subsidized and which will not.

The overall budget of the CAP is 408 billion euro (2014-2020)[5] and accounts for 38% of the whole EU budget. According to the objectives of the CAP, this money should be used to ensure stability in food supply while reducing environmental impact of agriculture.

In other words, the CAP should ensure that the EU citizens are fed properly, while keeping an eye on the environment.

However, the CAP is more than 50 years old and several reforms tried to adapt it to the evolving needs and challenges. But here it comes: the CAP does not adequately target the environmental- and health hazards posed by current livestock farming methods. In fact, it is light years behind.

Environmental preservation is also at the centre of the new EU2020 strategy, which aims to reduce emissions and building a more competitive low-carbon economy, making an efficient and sustainable use of resources. But the CAP continues to subsidize intensive farming methods instead of supporting the objectives of the EU 2020 strategy. This shows a serious lack of political will in tackling the environmental- and health hazard posed by agriculture.

Agricultural policies should be the mean to promote the internalization of the health externalities of poor diets and to improve population health and nutrition, while preserving the future economic prosperity and food security. All these aspects are increasingly dependent on natural resources’ preservation.

For this reason, environmental sustainability and health should become the leading principles of the CAP framework and target in particular the most damaging farming activity: the livestock sector.


[1] “The Carcinogenicity of the Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat.”

[2] Steinfeld, H., “Livestock Long Shadow.” 

[3] Joint Research Centre, “Evaluation of Livestock Sector Contribution to GHG Emission.”

[4] Westhoek et al., “Food Choices, Health and Environment.”


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