EU set to clean up after factory farming

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
EU set to clean up after factory farming

Last week, the European Commission presented two key legislative proposals to cut our overuse of toxic pesticides and to restore nature. These complement each other and are essential to halt the current biodiversity crisis. Most importantly, they represent a step forward in hindering the massive production of cheap feed for the intensive animal farming industry.

If the text is improved and adopted by the European Parliament and the ministers of the EU countries, these latest proposals will set binding laws across the EU. By 2030, EU countries on average will need to halve their use of chemical pesticides.

The EU will also ban the use of all pesticides in ecologically sensitive areas. EU countries will also be obliged to protect pollinators, wetlands, rivers, forest marine ecosystems, urban areas, and peatlands, aiming to restore 20% of EU’s land and sea area by 2030.

In the past months, we have witnessed a succession of blatant demands from the agribusiness sector, challenging the EU efforts to safeguard biodiversity and promote organic farming. These efforts led to the Commission’s decision to temporarily suspend an obligation for EU farm subsidies that would have helped protect nature.

With the latest proposals, the EU Commission thwarted the latest agribusiness attempts to water down the EU’s environmental ambitions.

If adopted, these provisions will serve as positive steps to halt the biodiversity and climate crises. They will also put a nail in the coffin of the intensive farming industry by breaking the vicious circle of cheap feed, cheap production, and overconsumption of unhealthy food.

In fact, the massive deployment of pesticides has changed the landscape and allowed the expansion of monocultures of fast-growing crops destined for animal feed, which in turn facilitated the purchasing of feed by factory farms at very low prices, perpetuating the high-density and horrific conditions for animals in factory farms across Europe.

In the same way, the restoration target of land and marine areas is meant to counter the harmful impacts that intensive animal farming has on nature.

The intricate connection between the ecosystem health and biodiversity depends on the existence of key species, such as pollinators.

In the last decades, as farming became more intensive, we witnessed a continuous reduction in the numbers of these species, the wildflowers and the rich meadows that were home to these animals.

As many have noticed, the occasional drive in the countryside decades ago when many flying insects would hit the windshield is not a common experience shared by many today.

Even the destruction of marine ecosystems can be traced back to intensive farming. Small fish such as anchovies and sardines are used to make fishmeal, which is commonly used as cheap animal feed for factory-farmed animals. The ecosystems in which these small fish live are destroyed by overfishing practices in order to accommodate the needs of the current intensive production system.

Innumerable links can be drawn between habitat loss or ecosystem exploitation and factory farming. The latest book by the CEO of Compassion in World Farming Philip Limbery highlights this very issue and stresses the various ways the food industry is threatening our world, starting from the United Nations warning that the world’s soils could be gone in a lifetime.

The EU Commission has set a very good starting point with these two proposals. However, the text would need to be improved in order for Member States to swiftly implement the transition to more sustainable and ecological practices.

The EU Parliament and the Council of the EU should support the Commission’s position, close existing loopholes and aim for more ambitious targets, in order to ensure environmentally friendly food systems and a safe and healthy future.

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