Pressure group attacks farming policy

British taxpayers are paying £700m a year towards supporting a factory farming system which is forcing small farmers out of business, fuelling rainforest destruction and making climate change worse, says pressure group Friends of the Earth.

Its report published today, entitled Feeding the Beast, details how funds from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) fuel demand for imported animal feed, encouraging South American growers to clear rainforests for plantations of soy crops.

The CAP has had a "significant role" in encouraging the intensification of EU and UK livestock production, favouring big business factory farms where animals are fed on imported soy protein over small farms where cows are reared on grass, says the report.

It accuses supermarkets of forcing farmers into more intensive methods by "abusing buyer power" to drive down prices. Some 4,000 jobs are being lost in farming each year as small family farms close.

The report was published as part of Friends of the Earth's new Food Chain Campaign calling for action to "fix the food chain" and reverse the long-term decline in small farms.

At current trends, soy farmers and cattle ranchers will destroy 40 per cent of the Amazon rainforest by 2040, said Friends of the Earth. According to United Nations figures, the meat and dairy industry is already responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world's transport.

Today's report calls for changes to the CAP – due for an overhaul in 2013 – to support the sustainable, non-intensive, grass-based meat and dairy sectors.

Home-grown protein crops such as peas, beans and lupins should be encouraged and farmers should be offered incentives to meet climate change challenges, it said.

"The CAP disproportionately rewards damaging farming practices and is failing to reduce climate-changing emissions and protect wildlife," said the report.

"It is also not supporting the UK, Europe and the rest of the world to feed itself in the long term.

"Despite changes to the CAP that were designed to remove the link between funding and artificially high production levels, it continues to maintain and support an intensive system.

"The market forces – particularly through supermarkets – that are driving further concentration in the meat and dairy sector are not countered by the CAP, so small farms are increasingly losing out to big businesses."

The report comes out against the abolition of CAP, which it describes as "essential in delivering a thriving farming system in the UK and EU".

But it argues that the 4.2 billion euro-a-year scheme needs a "complete rethink".

Friends of the Earth's executive director, Andy Atkins, said: "Cash-strapped families have no idea that millions of pounds of their money is being spent on an industry that contributes more to climate change than all the planes, cars and lorries on the planet."

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "The UK Government agrees that the CAP needs to be reformed so that it supports genuinely sustainable farming which safeguards the environment for the long term and enables farmers to be competitive."

Addressing problems of global food security also required open trade, ensuring farmers had fair access to markets, he added.V