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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Industrialization and Agriculture

"All the market’s interested in is the price. Taste is not really a consideration."
Hannes Schulz, poultry breeder

The industrialisation of agriculture in Europe which started on a large scale after the end of the Second World War and has spread massively ever since has not only led to considerable changes in the landscape but has above all completely upset the balance of nature in many places: wetlands have been drained, tracts of land razed and levelled so that they can be worked with huge machines, gigantic irrigation systems have been created, more and more environmental toxins applied for fertilisation and pest control, new breeds and strains developed of which a small number now replace the wide variety that used to flourish. The consequences: loss of diversity in habitats and species, the dwindling of ground water supplies and the contamination of soils, rivers and living organisms. Industrialised agriculture is responsible for almost 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions produced in the EU.

The driving force behind this development for the past 50 years has been the agricultural policies of the EU. The agriculture budget amounts to around half of the total EU budget - around 47 billion euros a year. Initially subsidies were linked to yield levels – the more farmers produced, the more financial support they received from the EU – while in the past few years farmers have received payments according to the area of land they cultivated or the numbers of livestock they held. Both systems exclusively reward increases in production, intensification and the trend towards ever larger farms. What falls by the wayside are not only the environment and health safeguards but also the diversity and quality of our food.

An ever-diminishing number of agribusiness concerns are cultivating ever larger areas. Between 1975 and 1995 more than 1.4 million farms went out of business in Europe. The most badly affected countries are Italy, Spain, Portugal and France - in these four countries the number of people employed in agriculture shrank by at least a third between 1987 and 1997.

Between 1990 and 1995 the number of farms going out of business as a result of overly aged farmers many of whom had reached retirement or were given a grant-in-aid for giving up their economic activity, rose with increasing rapidity. During this period, when Europe had twelve nation members, over a million farmers went out of business – which amounts to more than 550 farms closing down every day! This trend has continued since 1995.

Since 2003 subsidies have been contingent on the fulfilment of conditions in respect of environmental protection, food safety, health of livestock and plants as well as treatment of animals – albeit to a far too small degree in the concerted opinion of environmental and consumer protection organisations.

Reference: accessed 02 February 2010

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