Speaking at the IFAH-Europe conference in Brussels last week, David Leaver, professor emeritus at the Royal Agricultural College, said Europe could lose its agricultural competitiveness if it focused too much on environmental and animal welfare issues.
“My only fear for the EU is that we must take a balanced approach to how we look at sustainability. I am very worried about the CAP review, which is putting a very big emphasis on the environment. If we are not careful, we will finish up with a less competitive agricultural sector in Europe, we will produce less of our food and we will increase our importation of food from countries that don’t practise the same levels of control we have.”
Leaver gave the example of the UK, which has given strong emphasis to environmental and animal welfare issues over recent years. “During that period we have become less competitive as an agricultural industry, we have gone from producing 75% of our food down to less than 60% of our food. That is because we have given very little emphasis to competitiveness and the importance of economic sustainability,” he said.
He accepted that Europe “has to develop more sustainable systems”, but said these should take a broad range of economic, social and environmental issues into account. He pointed out that the majority (36%) of livestock-related emissions are from land use change such as deforestation of the rainforest for beef cattle, an issue which does not affect European production.