Overhaul of farm policy crucial for EU to meet sustainable development goals, new study shows

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is not even delivering on its own stated objectives let alone on several of the relevant Sustainable Development Goals [1] that the European Union holds up as its guiding principles.

There is a vast amount of available knowledge on the CAP’s impact on our society, economy and especially on the environment, yet this it is not taken up in policy design and implementation, leaving it inefficient, unsustainable and poorly accepted by both farmers and society. These were the key preliminary findings [2] of a forthcoming study – the most in-depth study on this topic to date.

In recent months, repeated demands [3] from a broad section of civil society, businesses, scientists, and MEPs for the European Commission to kick-start a much-needed full review of the CAP have fallen on deaf ears. In the absence of action from the Commission, a rapid evidence assessment was conducted, using the EU’s own ‘Fitness Check’ criteria to fill the gap.

Today’s release of the preliminary results coincides with a high-level European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and BirdLife Europe conference [4] in Brussels which features Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan and a host of other speakers from a broad range of civil society organisations who will discuss this study’s implications for the future of the CAP.

The conference and the study are timely; taking place just a few days after over 250,000 people and over 600 organisations and businesses called [5] on the Commission to radically overhaul the CAP in response to its public consultation exercise, and months before the Commission is expected to publish an autumn Communication on the future of the policy. The signatures and logos of the people and organisations that supported this call will be officially handed over to Commissioner Hogan right before the conference.

Lead author of the study, Guy Pe’er, said:

The available evidence analysed so far points to major inefficiencies resulting from the lack of a coherent set of objectives, ineffective and partly conflicting instruments, and poor uptake of knowledge. We also identified very poor relevance of the objectives themselves, and that both farmers and the public are unsatisfied with the CAP and its outcomes. While the design and implementation of CAP instruments fails to meet current sustainability challenges, the good news is that the knowledge and tools needed to move towards a better and smarter CAP are available. What’s needed now is the political will to use them.

BirdLife Europe Senior Policy Officer for Agriculture Trees Robijns said:

First Vice-President Timmermans has been very outspoken about the fact that the Better Regulation agenda is not just a cover for environmental deregulation – now it’s time for Commissioner Hogan to prove it by carrying out a Fitness Check of the CAP, as requested by over 100 NGOs, MEPs, and a key Commission advisory group. These researchers have laid the groundwork for the Commission to carry out a full review of our failing farm policy. Such an analysis is as essential basis for future farm policy proposals.”

EEB Policy Manager for Agriculture and Bioenergy Faustine Bas-Defossez said:

With runaway climate change, ecological collapse and serious socio-economic challenges in rural areas, the Commission cannot continue with business as usual. It is time to bite the bullet, take the sustainable development goals seriously, confront the facts, and come up with an agricultural policy that is fit for the 21st century. It is now clear that more and more voices from diverse backgrounds are calling for a truly sustainable food and farming system that takes all aspects of the food chain into account: from the impact of food production on our climate and the environment, to consumption and public health.”

Notes to editors:

[1] The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The 17 Goals build on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals, while including new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice, among other priorities. The EU has officially endorsed the SDGs.

[2] This study has been commissioned by: the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and BirdLife Europe to Guy Pe’er and Sebastian Lakner, and performed with Gioele Passoni, Clémentine Azam, Jurij Berger, Lars Hartmann, Stefan Schüler, Robert Müller, Marie von Meyer-Höver, and Yves Zinngrebe. It was accompanied by an interdisciplinary scoping committee: Tim Benton, Peter Bezak, Aletta Bonn, Lynn Dicks, Neal Haddaway, Bernd Hansjürgens, Kaley Hart, Jennifer Hauck, Felix Herzog, Francisco Moreira, Amanda Sahrbacher, Christian Schleyer, Clelia Sirami, and William Sutherland. Over 30 additional scientists contributed publications to the database. The project has been supported by Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Jena-Leipzig-Halle, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, and the University of Göttingen. The project ran from January until April 2017. The results are preliminary and the analysis is still ongoing. We are fully aware that the study has various limitations including the fact that the analysis would not need to be limited to just peer reviewed evidence but include expert knowledge, case studies, grey literature etc. The database is available via this link as of Monday 15th of May 2017. The authors welcome further contributions of relevant evidence via the online survey which will remain open until 15.7.2017 and available at www.surveymonkey.de/r/RapidCapAssessment

The authors shall strive to release the full report in autumn 2017.

Briefing on the CAP

Briefing on the CAP (EEB and BirdLife)


  • The researchers identified a huge bulk of knowledge and evidence; particularly on the CAP’s effectiveness and efficiency. Most of this looked at the question of how to best reduce the negative impacts of agriculture on our environment.
  • While the outcomes of the study with respect to effectiveness were mixed and depended on the scale of study and mechanism addressed, some results were overwhelmingly persistent: namely that the CAP is highly inefficient, especially with respect to environmental impacts, and consequently also incoherent with environmental SDGs (particularly biodiversity and climate).
  • The CAP was also found to fall short of addressing the most relevant challenges relating to agricultural sustainability. The study highlights that the mechanisms for environmental protection are there, but cannot achieve their goals due to other competing instruments in the CAP itself.
  • The study indicated that the CAP in its current form poorly supports SDG 12 due to unsustainable consumption and production, and SDG 15 especially due to exporting the high environmental footprint beyond the EU.
  • Finally, both socio-economic studies and environmental ones indicated sustainability issues to be critical for the successes or failures of the CAP as well as its effectiveness, efficiency and acceptance by the public.

[3] In March 2016 150 environmental, social, and health NGOs, a group of leading food experts, and 16 MEPs called on the European Commission to conduct a major review of the CAP through a Fitness Check.

In September 2016, an EEB proposal for an in-depth review of EU farm policy through a Fitness Check was given the stamp of approval by the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT) platform, a key European Commission advisory group made up of representatives from business, social partners and civil society.

[4] Who will fix the broken CAP? Recipe for a Living Land, 11 May 2017.

[5] The Commission’s public consultation on the Common Agricultural Policy ended on 2 May and over 250,000 people and 600 organisations and businesses took part via the Living Land campaign, calling for a radical overhaul of EU farm policy to make it fair, environmentally sustainable, healthy and globally responsible.

For more information:

Emily Macintosh, Communications Officer, European Environmental Bureau


+32 2 274 10 86

Overhaul of farm policy crucial for EU to meet sustainable development goals, new study shows
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