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A Sustainable Food Industry for Europe (Now with poll!)

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 12:38:20 PM EST

Jon Worth is a long time blogger and commentator on European politics I respect greatly. I have interviewed him briefly, here.  All the more surprising to me therefore, that we seem to have differed greatly in our approach to the Common Agricultural policy and its reform.  

I see the CAP (however imperfect) as an essential mainstay of a sustainable European food industry and a bulwark against the disaster capitalism tactics of the global agri-business giants that would almost inevitably follow its demise.  Jon appears to see it as more part of the problem rather than the solution, which for him seems to lie with greater liberalisation of global food markets.

I don't think either of us are particularly qualified to conduct this debate on our own, so I have taken the liberty of copying our debate beneath the fold in the hope that it might attract some more expert comment on ET.  Is a Sustainable European food industry as essential as a sustainable European Energy or defence  industry?  Or is it just a bunch of cosseted farmers who should be let go to the wall?

You decide.


Jon Worth » One rule for farmers, another rule for everyone else

One rule for farmers, another rule for everyone else

I managed to avoid the milk-farmer chaos in Brussels on Thursday and Friday - hundreds of tractors driving slowly to bring protests about low milk prices to the European Council. But what exactly are the farmers whingeing about, and what should be done about it?

This piece from EUObserver has more - it costs €33 to produce 100 litres of milk on a Belgian farm, and wholesalers are buying milk for just €19 per 100 litres. The farmers would ideally like a price of €44 per 100 litres. In any normal sector of the economy the high-price producers would go out of business, and those that can produce at a lower price would get the business, profiting from economies of scale or better technology. Look at how OPEC works - reduce production to drive up prices. Sorry to put it bluntly, but if the prices are too low, then some cows are going to have to be slaughtered.

Another alternative would be to appeal to customers that might be more inclined to buy local rather than imported milk, and pay a premium for the privilege - some equivalents of the British Farm Standard scheme might do to the job.

But what do the farmers do instead? They come complaining to the European Commission, and governments in each of the Member States, whining that something should be done to help their plight. It's the EU's plan to phase out the quota system for milk that is to blame they bleat - the very quotas that were introduced in the 1980s to prevent over-production of milk and were detested by milk farmers at that time. Keep the quotas, keep our prices up!

The EUObserver piece quotes a farmer: "It's not a problem of the stores, it's a problem of a regulation by the states and overall by Europe" - no. The problem is with the farmers who cannot except the logic of simple market forces. If the price of milk is too low, then produce less. Don't produce at a loss and then go begging for assistance from the EU.

(Apologies if this article is really wide of the mark - I've scoured the web and cannot find anything except hot air and hollow rhetoric from farmers on this - if I'm missing some fundamental point to the economics behind this then please do tell me in the comments)

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My response

Frank Schnittger<abbr> 21.06.2009 at 23:30 | Permalink

I live on my brother-in-law's dairy farm and the economics are a good deal more complex than you suggest. Production has been going down, many farmers are retiring and not being replaced, but the costs of production keep going up because of very stringent regulations governing animal testing, milk testing, anti-biotic use, vet care, animal husbandry, design of silage pits, slurry pits, milking parlours etc. Most of this is very good - but it results in EU farmers incurring costs not incurred by farmers outside EU. Some of the regulations are idiotic or keep changing. My brother-in-law has had to replace very expensive equipment long before its lifespan because of regulations changing without much logic or aforethought.

The consequence is that the EU will increasingly be importing dairy products from relatively unregulated external sources - with risks to food quality, consumer safety, and security of supply - not to mention carbon footprint/energy costs associated with transporting goods long distances. Once farmers retire a lot of knowledge and culture is lost - it is a largely irreversible process - there are virtually no new entrants into the business. Thus unless t is managed carefully, the EU will create an irreversible dairy produce dependency on external suppliers with little by way of animal care or product quality control in source countries.

I'm not suggesting that farmers be subsidised hugely and indefinitely - subsidies have been declining gradually on a long term basis in any case. But we don't want to turn our countryside and rural population structure into an arid depopulated agribusiness wasteland either. What works for large Tory held estates doesn't necessarily work for small family held farms. The call to eliminate subsidies is also a call to eliminate competition from small farmers so that the larger estates have control of the countryside to themselves.

Food production is an issue worldwide, and we shouldn't necessarilly be forcing third world economies to provide for first world food requirements when their own people are starving. The Irish famine 1845-8 led to 2 Million deaths and the same number of forced emigrations at a time when Ireland was a grain exporter for the British market. Small producers can't always survive the exigencies of climate and market price fluctuations. So providing some stability is a laudable CAP objective - as is control of GM crops and habitat destruction.

Unregulated markets haven't worked in the financial sector, and neither did they work in the agricultural or fishing sectors. The difficulty is that farmers have very little bargaining power compared to "too-big-to-fail" banks and are thus always going to be at the end of the gravy chain - even though they are at the very beginning of the food chain. Long term, the farmers are fighting a losing battle, and the family farm is dying. However I think we won't appreciate what they contributed until they are gone.

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Jon Worth

Jon<abbr> 21.06.2009 at 23:58 | Permalink

Nice try Frank, but there are 2 serious problems with this:

(1) Seriously, how much milk could possibly be imported from anywhere outside the EU to - say - Ireland? OK, if it's cheese or yogurt perhaps, but I would like to see some stats on that. And if there are major (sub-standard) exports, then the farming lobby needs to push for more stringent rules on those imports, rather than whining about the situation.

(2) The farming lobby in Brussels has been immensely strong for years and years, massively out-weighing the total impact for farming on the European economy. There's no way farmers are rolling over in a pliant manner.

I agree that the family farm is dying, but as far as I am concerned, so be it. I do not seen any further justification for protection of farming than for any other sector.

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My Response

1. Farmers have been pushing for greater (level playing pitch) regulation on imports for years. See recent Irish farmers delegation to Brazil.. The problem is GATT often doesn't permit such regulation (= trade restrictions) and may even force GM products into the EU.

2. If farmers have been so powerful and successful, why have CAP price supports been declining for years, and why is the family farm dying? You confuse highly visible street protests with really effective insider lobbying such as that carried out by the City or large corporations.

3. Why is it that urban "Socialists" are all for regulated markets and state intervention and provision when their direct interests are concerned - healthcare, education, housing, social welfare - and suddenly all for free markets when farmers are concerned? In reality, differential taxation/government supports means that very few sectors are not subject to varying degrees state intervention/subvention.

4. The reality is that primary food production is largely uneconomic in western Europe - we don't have the huge land mass and scale of US farmers, and even they are heavily subsidised. The EU has long had a strategic policy of supporting a degree of food self-sufficiency in Europe, and preserving a degree of small scale craft production of produce as part of the social structure. I find these to be laudable objectives - no less so that providing good state education/healthcare for all, social welfare for some, and policies to support industry and enterprise in other sectors. It also makes sense that these policies are enacted at an EU rather than a state level.

5. Instead of whining about farmers, why don't you work for better and more consistent health, education, and social welfare services throughout the EU?

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Trooper Thompson responds

Trooper Thompson<abbr> 22.06.2009 at 01:35 | Permalink

"I agree that the family farm is dying, but as far as I am concerned, so be it. I do not seen any further justification for protection of farming than for any other sector."

The family farm may be dying, but not from natural causes. The cost of regulation that your beloved EU has introduced has fallen disproportionately on small farmers. I'd rather subsidise food production than the criminal bankers.

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Jon Worth

Jon<abbr> 22.06.2009 at 08:20 | Permalink

1. At the instigation of Irish farmers the EU banned Brazilian beef imports - see this. The idea the farmers have no power on these sorts of matters is folly.

2. It's completely right that CAP price support has been declining. Price support is what gave us milk mountains, excess supplies of sugar, Italian farmers dumping excess tomatoes on the world market. Pay farmers to stay in business, fine, but don't mess up world trade while doing so. There are 2 things wrong with the CAP: that it takes a huge slice of the EU budget, and that is messes up world trade in agricultural products, especially for producers in the developing world. The latter is the one that most importantly needs to be sorted out.

3. There is a difference between setting up the rules for a market and making sure it operates fairly, and handing out subsidies - they are not the same thing. Yes, farmers should be paid a fair price for milk, just as a steel worker should get a fair wage too. But if either of those industries takes a hit, so be it, government has to step in and help support and re-train the people made redundant.

4. There are 2 aspects to what I stand for with regard to the EU - one is to make the EU use the powers that it has better, and the second is to work out ways to do new things. CAP is a relic of the 1950s, there's never been a proper discussion of its role, and it does not benefit farmers, consumers or developing countries in its present form. That's the reason I'm critical of it.

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James Burnside responds

James Burnside 22.06.2009 at 09:59 | Permalink

If the CAP was maintaining "family farms" in Europe, it would be worth the money. But - as recent moves to publish the beneficiaries prove - too much of the budget is going to rich landowners, large farming companies and agrifood businesses (sugar refiners, for example). In 50 years, CAP has - at best - slowed down the process of consolidation in farming, as commercial interests seek to maximise economies of scale. The introduction of the sorts of regulations/costs Frank mentions above have been a major driver of that consolidation.

The other problem has been, and is, the buying power of the (consolidating) small numbers of supermarket chains which supply ever-larger proportions of the total food consumption of the increasingly urban population across Europe. They drive the prices down for foreign suppliers, just as much as EU-based suppliers, so while farmers giving up in the EU will increase the proportion of food we get from the developing world, it certainly doesn't mean they will be guaranteed a better price.

Yes, the CAP takes the biggest share of the EU budget, but the proportion's fallen a lot; and would have fallen further if the Union had increased its budgets to the GNI share agreed in previous financial perspectives. CAP needs to be reformed significantly, but the answer is a lot more complex than simply slashing agricultural spending in the EU budget and letting the markets decide the fallout.

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My response

Jon Worth wrote

CAP is a relic of the 1950s, there's never been a proper discussion of its role, and it does not benefit farmers, consumers or developing countries in its present form. That's the reason I'm critical of it.

But you do not need to repeat Tory talking points to be critical of the CAP. Farming is as susceptible to a class analysis as any other sphere of economic activity, and as James Burnside has pointed out, the problem is not the existence of the CAP per se, but that its has been too largely tilted towards large landowners and agri-buisness rather than small workers earning a precarious wage. (My brother-in-law works 12 hour days, 6.5 days of the week, 51 weeks of the year, with no public or bank holidays. He has never married partly in consequence, and his income, never large, is subject to huge fluctuations in price and costs - e.g. the EU has just mandated a new slurry pit at a cost of 40K and his silage harvester (14K)has just broken down). It is unlikely that his farm will survive him as a working farm and the countryside is being taken over by scattered suburban development, "gentlemen farmers", land bank investors, roads and developers.

I would share your concerns about product dumping to the detriment of third world producers, but the butter mountains et al of which you complain have been much reduced in recent years and it is generally multi-national agri-businesses operating in the third world which are effected by world commodity prices, not small indigenous producers producing for their local market - which are much more effected by local supply and demand in response to poor harvests/climatic conditions, and the general healh of the local economy. Overall, not enough food is being produced, so policies which encourage quality, stability and security of demand and supply are to be commended from both a producer and consumer perspective.

I have no doubt that agriculture in advanced high cost European economies would have long died out were it not for the CAP. Rather than repeat Tory talking points on the one area of policy where the EU has been somewhat effective - operating out of a declining cut out of a budget of c. 1% of GDP - why not campaign for more effective EU action and a larger budget where greater EU expenditure and coordination is needed - harmonisation of health care, education, social welfare, working conditions, consumer/patient/worker/child/and human rights etc.? The working hours and conditions of farmers would not pass any "Working Time Directive" test and yet socialists are peculiarly blind to the rights of farm workers invoking market mechanisms they do not accept in the public employment sphere or many private industries.

Part of the reason socialism is in long term decline in Europe is that they have often gratuitously alienated the self employed in many spheres of economic activity when those self-employed - increasingly dominated by near monopoly capitalistic concerns - have far more objective interests in common with industrial workers than they have with their multinational suppliers/customers who are gradually squeezing them out of business through a combination of higher costs and lower prices. You are confusing urban hubris and alienation from primary production with socialism. Get your hands dirty and work on a farm for a few days to appreciate its importance in social, economic and environmental terms - and don't mortgage our future to the Chiquitas of this world.

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Jon Worth

Jon<abbr> 22.06.2009 at 12:34 | Permalink

Moving slightly beyond the farming points... I agree with you that policies for small enterprises and self-employed people are vital if the left is ever to rejuvenate itself. I am after all self-employed (although in web design and not in farming) so I know what it's like, especially in Belgium where ludicrous rules and systems predominate.

As for how small business can prosper in farming - it is surely through value added, rather than simply being a smaller version of the big guys - i.e. by producing better products for niche markets.

Then for the other things you raise... I think you wrongly interpret the extent to which I in any way agree with socialist or social democratic parties anywhere, and I for sure have very, very little influence or impact on any of them. I have been a member of the UK Labour Party for a long time, but that's more due to what the party might be rather that what it actually is. I'm very much a believer in Nordic ideas of flexicurity, wealth redistribution through the taxation system, but also simple systems to allow individuals to create companies and become entrepreneurs.

The issues of social policy, healthcare etc. are in my mind too much lost causes at EU level at the moment that I don't deal with them on this blog. At least with CAP, esp. when it comes to matters of international trade, there could at least be some movement in the coming years.

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My Response quoting Jon

Frank Schnittger<abbr> 22.06.2009 at 12:55 | Permalink

Jon Worth

As for how small business can prosper in farming - it is surely through value added, rather than simply being a smaller version of the big guys - i.e. by producing better products for niche markets.

My daughter works on a neighbouring dairy farm producing high quality ice cream for shops, restaurants and festivals using only natural fresh ingredients - she is the sole employee in a family enterprise.

I'm very much a believer in Nordic ideas of flexicurity, wealth redistribution through the taxation system, but also simple systems to allow individuals to create companies and become entrepreneurs.

How is this inconsistent with helping family farms to survive? - ref:
Jon Worth

I agree that the family farm is dying, but as far as I am concerned, so be it.

Jon Worth

The issues of social policy, healthcare etc. are in my mind too much lost causes at EU level at the moment that I don't deal with them on this blog. At least with CAP, esp. when it comes to matters of international trade, there could at least be some movement in the coming years.

Must we always let our agendas be set by the neo-cons and neo-libs? The only movement there has been in recent years has been in line with the "market liberalisation" agenda you also seem to espouse. Isn't that what is wrong with "New Labour"? It has become more free market orientated than the big businesses it claims to regulate and control. (Having worked for 24 years in the world's largest alcoholic drinks business, I can assure you that free markets are for the little guys. We aimed to dominate and control markets).

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Jon Worth

Jon<abbr> 22.06.2009 at 12:59 | Permalink

The Nordic flexicurity model operates - broadly - on the basis of the state stepping in with re-training and re-skilling, rather than propping up enterprises that are no longer competitive. So the statements I've made are consistent. The state should not step in to save family farms, but it should assist with helping communities to adjust.

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My response

Frank Schnittger<abbr> 22.06.2009 at 13:36 | Permalink

According to this article on the Nordic Model, Ireland and the UK rank more highly than Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden on the ease of doing business index. It didn't stop us being hit disproportionately hard when "light touch regulation" capitalism crashed in the past two years. Neither did it stop us bailing out banks and car industries etc. to the tune of (potentially 90% of GDP) and the only re-training/re-skilling of bankers we have done is to ask them to go easy on the bonuses for the next year or so.

The CAP is a pittance by comparison, and is aimed at sustaining a level of agriculture in an environment where costs have inflated sky high because of the dominance of financial "services" and other industrial monopolies. I would feel more comfortable in a society where at least part of our productive effort is devoted to making real things for real people and we have some security of supply if the whole system of world trade goes belly up.

There is no guarantee that world food prices will come down if Europe stops producing but we can be sure that our food supplies will be increasingly dominated and controled by a smaller and smaller oligarchy of global food businesses. An Oil crisis has nothing on the social crises that would follow on a food crisis, and as Naomi Klein has shown, disaster capitalism feeds on such artificially induced crises to produce an entirely new playing pitch and price levels for essential foods.

We need a domestic food industry for strategic survival reasons - as much if not more than as we need a defence industry, and a sustainable energy industry. Leaving energy to the free markets merely hastens the day when the the oil will run out and energy prices become unaffordable for all but the wealthy. If we don't ensure a strategic and sustainable supply of food for the world's population more people will end up starving. It's as stark a choice as that.

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I'm sure there's right on both sides, and I may be getting a bit over-rhetorical and over generalised in some of my points.  I make no claims to CAP expertise.  But can someone here help us out?  Is there such a thing as a progressive critique of the CAP or is the neo-lib critique the only game in town?

Poll
The CAP needs to be:
. 1. Abolished and replaced with a free market in food produce 0%
. 2. Reformed to give a greater role to market pricing mechanisms 0%
. 3. Retained more or less as now 0%
. 4. Strengthened to assure quality and increase european food self-sufficiency 16%
. 5. Have food security and environmental sustainability at its core 75%
. 6. Other - suggestions on a postcard in the comments please... 8%

Votes: 12
Results | Other Polls
Display:
I hope it's deemed ok in terms of netetiquette to hijack a conversation from elsewhere for comment here  I felt the conversation was a better way of illuminating different viewpoints than trying to produce a "on the one hand, and on the other..." type diary.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 10:21:34 AM EST
Of course there is a progressive critique of the CAP, aiming at capping the subsidy per farm/family, and asking that it turns its emphasis from promoting industrial methods and objectives to more sustainable ones - the one problem being that farmers don't want to become glorified gardeners maintaining the countryside with subsidies.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 11:08:32 AM EST
Those farmers I know don't have a problem with the move from quota based production targets to direct subvention and are also quite happy to comply with habitat directives, REPS - Rural Environment Protection Scheme and other measures.  Their problem is they can't cover their costs at current prices.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 11:27:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Guess time:

I'll bet many, if not all, of these farmers are locked into commodity production and do not sell their product(s) directly to consumers.  I'll further bet these farmers haven't heard of producer/consumer co-ops either.

Until farmers capture the consumer dollar they will remain ill-payed for their work while watching the middlemen and grocery/food stores reap the majority of the profits.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 11:51:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The irish cooperative movement has been a huge part of Irish farming history with most farmers selling to cooperatives acting as primary processors and food marketeers.  However over the years the professionalism of the co-ops combined with the consolidation mandated by the economies of scale have rendered these businesses only marginally different from commercial businesses, albeit with significant farmer shareholdings.  

EU regulations on pasteurisation, sterility, and the equipment required - often ludicrously prescriptive - also makes it almost impossible for individual farmers to raise the capital required for even small scale craft production.  The increasing dominance of the retail market by global supermarket chains also cuts off direct access to the vast majority of consumers.  Farmer's markets exist but they operate on the margins.

There are many regulatory, technological, capital, and economic barriers to direct market entry and it is very difficult for many farmers to survive without being caught in the corporately dominated supply chain.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 06:45:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
linca:
the one problem being that farmers don't want to become glorified gardeners maintaining the countryside with subsidies.

why not? sure beats abusing the land by stripmining its value at the cost of future fertility, polluting water tables and reducing humus, not to mention having to deal, (or more likely pay immigrants to), with incredibly dodgy chemicals.

you argue your corner brilliantly, imo, Frank, definitely seeing the big picture.

also, i don't feel it to be bad netiquette to transport an interesting dialogue, au contraire, that's one of the things it's for...

multi-kudos for focussing on what's real, and will continue to be long after much of what we see around us is gone. CAP money should stop going to big ag and gentry estates and be used as skillful social engineering to guarantee against the mass exodus of country people to already overloaded towns, the toxification of the environment, and insurance against over-reliance on heavy-footprinted imports.

it makes no sense that kenya's main export is roses, when many of its people are hungry, we in the EU need to be very careful about importing such sundries.

as more and more people are laid off from industry, the issues of food and where it comes from will come ever more to the forefront of public affairs.

i'm sure glad you're putting out sound ideas into the forums about these serious issues, there's a lot of education to do.

reclaiming fields on my land, on which farming had been abandoned for 80 years, is enough of a gruelling job, even with heavy machinery. it has given me incredible respect for the work our ancestors put in creating them, and keeping the woods from taking them over, without CAP, these local farms would have been long subsumed, surrounded by ghost villages, as is happening in other parts of italy.

don't abolish it, make it sustainably fairer...

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 05:21:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A society without agriculture loses its connection to the interconnectedness of life. When you think of the environment as a machine with discrete replaceable parts, a machine that produces endless consumables, you become part of the machine.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 11:31:49 AM EST
That's part of what I wanted to say, but you say it so much better.  Being a farmer is a vocation for many, and most I know continue farming until they die, even if it ends up costing them money.  Its a way of life and they don't know of any other way.  But I think the wider community also benefits greatly from this connectedness with the soil.  

Urban man lives by supermarket ready meals where all connection with the soil is lost.  But that sort of point is treated as mystical mumbo jumbo or special pleading by an interest group by the neo-lib reformers.  I would hate to live in a society without a vibrant rural life and agricultural sector.  But then I'm biased.  I grew up and live there.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 11:42:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Even at Nokia, many Finnish execs still clear their desks and head out to the summer cottage for 4 weeks. Sauna, sausages, swimming, water from the well, a crap in the wooden privy, eggs from the farmer, whittling, listening to the weather forecast at 6, building a tree house with the kids, crates of beer...are all essential to the Finnish experience.

Bu slowly it's changing: the portable TV has become a DVD player combo, the blackberry and the iPhone are along, friends come for the day - guided by car-nav.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 12:42:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't have a problem with some hi-tech innovations - they can be less resource exhaustive than older tech.  Thus modern cars are more fuel efficient, I love maps, but if sat nav gets you there more efficiently, way to go! Mobile phones can save a lot of redundant journeys or inflexible pre-planning. Laptops/wifi can give you a sense of connectedness in remote communities.

These things can coexist with the log cabin and open fire.  Less intensive farming can help sustain wildlife habitats and biodiversity.  Manual labour can be a real drag and the power take-off shaft on a tractor can be a real boon.  Increased population/urbanisation requires mass production to sustain it at some levels.  But we should retain what food and human diversity we can.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 01:32:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
Laptops/wifi can give you a sense of connectedness in remote communities.

These things can coexist with the log cabin and open fire.  Less intensive farming can help sustain wildlife habitats and biodiversity.

contadino digitale!

(translation 'digitised peasant', but it rings much better in italiano)

that's the future, and a good, noble and dignified one it could be.

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jun 25th, 2009 at 07:28:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jon's opening comments on milk are not entirely wide of the mark, imo. The local market for a quality product at a premium isn't fantasy. And I think the CAP certainly has to change radically. But I obviously don't go with the dismissal of farming (which is a fairly standard brash English attitude).

I fear I can't get back in to develop this until tomorrow.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 12:06:55 PM EST
Later in the conversation I note my daughter makes premium ice cream at a local dairy farm - the market for it is going well even in a recession.  But not every farmer can make butter, cheese, ice cream, chocolate etc.  There is a market for craft produce, but it is always going to be a premium product for a more limited market.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 12:29:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This level of economics is far to the right of the current Democratic Party in the USA. The total evasion of the issue of off-shore labor and environmental conditions, the dismissal of the concerns of working people ("whinging"), the naive faith in the market - it's Clintonism with an inhuman face.
by rootless2 on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 02:22:56 PM EST
Is a Sustainable European food industry as essential as a sustainable European Energy or defence  industry?  Or is it just a bunch of cosseted farmers who should be let go to the wall?

Both, actually.

By which I mean, where were most of the farmers when the steel mills closed?  The dockyards?  The mines? Wrapped up in their own bubble of subsidy, the chill winds of globalisation were just for the little people. When subsidies were cream on top of an already substantial cake (as in the early 90's when I was working in a rural accountancy practice), did they complain? When the UK's industrial base was being stripped to near nothing, did they suggest getting their heads out of the trough and sharing the subsidy?  Did they hell.

No, I don't believe in unfettered globalisation.  Yes, I believe in a sustainable European food industry. And if this is where we draw the line in the sand and say "Enough", then it's actually long overdue.

But it's not out of any particular sympathy for the farmers, whose solution to the problems of globalisation is still to protect only them.

by Sassafras on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 06:20:50 PM EST
In Ireland the farmers are part of the national partnership process with the Government, employers and trade unions.  Like any trade union, the Irish Farmers association is there primarily to protect the interests of its members.  

As the Government/EU effectively determine a good deal of farmers income through the level of price subsidies or development grants, the Govt./EU is effectively their employer with whom they use their collective bargaining muscle to get what they can.  

Sometimes this can lead to common interests with other workers/trade unions on levels of taxation or social benefits etc. but more often than not their is little common linkage between industrial wage negotiations and the level of CAP subsidies.  

Certainly on the issue of globalisation farmers have been to the forefront in France and elsewhere.  But the often solitary and remote nature of their work doesn't make for easy organisation or linkages with other Unions.

There is also the crucial difference that farmers often own their "means of production" whereas as many industrial and salaried workers do not.  There are huge cultural differences between largely solitary workers and people who work in huge organisations which makes for very different perspectives between people who work for themselves, and people who work for others.

When allied to the traditional social conservatism of rural Ireland, this often means farmers support different political parties to the more militant urban based workers.  All of this is not to say, however, that they don't have certain objective interests in common - as workers, consumers, citizens and producers of essential goods and services.

Globalisation, Climate Change, world food shortages, and political regulation of markets changes the game for all of us, and it is perhaps time that both "sides" recognised this.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 at 07:06:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One must first agree on the purpose of the CAP. Is it to optimize food production or is it to maintain the ideal of picturesque family farms in an attractive rural setting?

Massive amounts of food are best produced by gigantic corporate-owned factory farms using high technology seed, fertilizer, implements, and pest management chemicals. Pastoral settings are best maintained by targeted price supports. What is the goal?

by asdf on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 08:51:41 AM EST
I don't think it is as simple as this.  Even "massive amounts of food" have to be produced in a safe and sustainable way, and chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and GM crops don't always meet those criteria.  Most of Western Europe is too densely populated or of unsuitable terrain for massive factory farms in any case.

Maximising employment, product quality, social cohesion and stability, environmental sustainability, biodiversity, rural and regional development, European self sufficiency and balancing supply/demand have always been part of EU agricultural policy.

No, it doesn't always provide you with the cheapest food, and the globalisation of the food industry continues apace.  Factory farms in less densely populated/more suitable terrains will continue to increase market share providing less employment, employment rights, often less biodiversity/sustainability, and possibly less food for those who need it most.

It is impossible to discuss the food industry outside its environmental and social context and market mechanisms alone will not ensure sustainability or distribution to those who need it.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 09:21:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Optimize food production along which dimension?
  1. Environmental impact?
  2. Quality of flavour?
  3. Animal welfare?
  4. Diversity of products?
  5. Nutritional content?
  6. Quantity?

I would argue that gigantic corporate-owned factory farms tend to do quite poorly on at least the first four. The European agricultural problem is closer to over production than under production anyway, so I don't think the last point is really of great concern at the moment. And, yes, pastoral settings should be part of the goal.

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 11:26:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
asdf:
Is it to optimize food production or is it to maintain the ideal of picturesque family farms in an attractive rural setting?

i think it's incredibly important to differentiate between optimisation and maximisation.

or if talking about maximisation, talk about maximisation of nutrients, and health of topsoil, water tables, etc.

otherwise it's just about sacrificing quality for quantity, and we see the dismal results of that all around us, if we look beyond the surface.

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jun 25th, 2009 at 07:34:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Something that annoys me a bit is that Sweden reregulated its agricultural sector in the late 1980ies getting rid of structures that caused over-production while supporting farmers and avoiding lots of factory farming.

This was of course changed again when Sweden entered the EU, and one of the main effects has been huge fallouts to rich landowners.

Yes, the "free market will solve everything" is false but that does not make the CAP a good regulation. And regarding the amount of farmers influence I would say it matters greatly which farmers and what interests you are talking about. European farmers are not a solid bloc.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 03:16:21 PM EST
Only between 6-8% of CAP goes to 'small farmers'. I am not sure what the definition is of 'small'.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 03:22:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And what we have talked about re the role of agriculture in society is dependent on small farmers, not on industrial farming.

I can't imagine a society that has no respect for small farmers. It's a quality of life thing. But I'm probably turning slowly blimpish in my dotage....

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 03:52:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If Socialist parties could engage with small farmers, it would hugely enrich and strengthen both parties.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 03:56:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I am surprised this has not taken place. But if you are only counting votes, the farmers are ignorable in the short term.

But I see considerable benefits in the future for parties that can make the philosophical argument about local food production/control over sustainability/visual environment/social values etc. It would be an especially easy sell in Finland.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 04:04:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is imho about identities.

The socialists takes their identity from the workers position in the industrial society, the farmers party from the farmers position in the industrial society.

To merge these an overriding identity and narrative needs to form.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 04:11:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Farming is industrialising too, and farmers are increasingly de facto employees of their customers - dairies/grain wholesalers/retail multiples.  The whole business of subcontracting work to nominally independent self-employeed contractors is all about avoiding the legal and other obligations that socialists have established for the employer/employee relationship.

Arguably, the small self-employed operators are victims of classical Marxist "false consciousness" syndrome.  They think they are capitalists/independent and even small employers, when in reality they are more under the thumb of agribusiness than direct employees are.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 04:23:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The situation is a little different in Finland, where, for geological reasons (and the Forest program), small to midsize farms are the norm, as are agricultural cooperatives such as Raisio. But Raisio is now publicly quoted and no longer run as a classic cooperative.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 04:30:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The same has happened to Irish agricultural cooperatives

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 04:33:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the trend in service industries with circumventing employee protections by technically having one-person franchises I can see the basis for a new identity.

One-person franchises in all corporations, unite!

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 04:49:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The whole business of subcontracting work to nominally independent self-employeed contractors is all about avoiding the legal and other obligations that socialists have established for the employer/employee relationship.

Arguably, the small self-employed operators are victims of classical Marxist "false consciousness" syndrome.  They think they are capitalists/independent and even small employers, when in reality they are more under the thumb of agribusiness than direct employees are.

These are important points, and I find it hard to fathom how socialist parties have failed to grasp them.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jun 24th, 2009 at 05:58:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A swedish kind of death:
To merge these an overriding identity and narrative needs to form.

it's forming here and now on this thread!

climate change will continue to force the unwilling to acknowledge the price of externalities, be it through insurance risk, or resource shortage.

once that veil of ignorance is riven, then the union of workers, industrial and agricultural could better occur.

so rive it we will! (with a lot of help from Gaia).

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jun 25th, 2009 at 07:38:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
At least in France, it seems the Greens are engaging some of the small farmers.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 07:10:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As long as this isn't a case of city people telling country people how to manage their the land this could be a very productive dialogue for both sides.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 07:36:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cheese is selling at €2000 a tonne at wholesale level and €10,000 a tonne at retail level.  A nice mark-up[ for the Tescos of this world which have not reduced their retail prices in response to major declines in the wholesale price.

Farmers get 20c a litre for milk - which sells at retail level for €1.70 a litre after the processors have some of the fat other other products.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 05:10:51 PM EST
... is going to industrialise. This is not something that I think can be changed.

Not because of any virtue of factory farming - I am not a big fan of that - but because the logistics of storing, transporting and distributing the food needed to sustain a modern industrial society is itself an industrial operation. And industrial operations like to liaison with other industrial operations - they do not like small, independent (and thus unpredictable) enterprises like family farms.

So with that in mind, I think it would be fruitful to turn the question around: Instead of asking "whether CAP?" we should be asking "what rural policy?" Note that I am saying rural policy, not agricultural policy. The former is much broader than the latter.

In my view, any rural policy is constrained by the following set of objectives:

  • Sustainability: Our society must be able to continue to operate well into the future.

  • Biodiversity, landscape and habitat protection: The diversity of species, landscapes and habitats must be preserved. This is related to, but not quite the same as the sustainability objective. One can have a sustainable society even with radical loss of biodiversity and habitats and with a much more uniform landscape. It will, however, be a much poorer society.

  • Food production: This has to be concentrated in the rural areas, for obvious reasons. This bullet also includes the health and welfare of both humans and animals employed in food production.

  • Suitability for human habitation: WesternTM countries are not Stalinist dictatorships in which people are simply assigned a place to live. If the countryside cannot offer the opportunity to live a rewarding life, it will not be populated by the people needed to implement the other policy objectives. While this does not mean that the countryside must offer the same kind of amenities as the city (a futile and not very desirable goal), it very much does includes a settlement structure that allows for rail or water transport to major population centres. Before the turn of the next century, there will be no more long-distance mass transportation of goods or humans in personal automobiles. To put it bluntly, anything that isn't serviced by rail will be serviced by ox cart. This is not a matter of policy, it is a matter of geological reality.

Now, I won't claim to have a ready-made rural policy, but I think that we can draw a couple of important conclusions from this analysis:

  1. Rural population will be more concentrated than it is today. Medium-density towns will replace the rustic dispersed villages (which are a logistical nightmare even today, nevermind what it'll look like without widespread access to automobiles).

  2. Agriculture that depends directly on access to land for growing crops will have to be dispersed. These will have to have individual transport accommodations (literally rails going straight to the grain silo). These may be inhabited in the manner of the contemporary farm, crewed in the manner of an oil rig or some combination.

  3. Agriculture that does not depend directly on access to land will be concentrated near the towns (for access to workforce, infrastructure and amenities).

  4. Because Europe has the population density that it does, we will not have room to set aside isolated nature preserves, on the same scale as the North American national park system. There will probably be some sensitive habitats that will need to be strictly protected from industrial activity, but they will never be the dominant feature of the landscape.

  5. It follows directly from 4) that it is imperative that the industrial agricultural production has a view to maintaining diverse flora, fauna, landscapes and habitats, and to high standards of human and animal welfare in the production. It is not obvious to me how to do that. But it is worthwhile to remember that "industrial" does not mean "enormous output" - rather, it means "predictable output." In the past century, the two have gone hand in hand, but they will not do so in the coming century (again, this is not a matter of policy, it is a matter of physical reality).

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.
by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jun 24th, 2009 at 06:40:56 PM EST
Thanks for this substantial and thoughtful response to my diary.  It started out as a comment response to a typical piece of urban socialist farmer bashing which I felt didn't capture the complexities of the issues involved, not necessarily as a defence of the CAP per se, although the CAP has ameliorated the worst effects of deregulation/industrialisation and slowed the destruction of traditional farming with all the community and sustainability impacts this would entail.

Your piece also helps fulfil my second objective, which is to move the debate on from the undoubted defects of a bureaucratic CAP which has been shaped largely by a political compromise between the ruling classes and a (rapidly declining) farmer class, to a much broader argument about sustainability, food security, bio-diversity, the quality of the environment, energy intensity,  rural living and urban/rural planning.

I'm struggling to find a more expert community to discuss this with, because I want to move beyond the cliches into more measurable policy objectives and the political alliances required to make them realistic goals.  But hopefully this will get a debate going on ET as well.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 25th, 2009 at 06:39:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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