CAP reforms against French grain

30th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

The EU's plans for reforming the Common Agricultural Policy, the CAP, worth a yearly EUR 40 billion in subsidies, is strongly opposed by France.

Olivier de Bohan, a fifth-generation grain farmer in northeastern France, is proud to uphold the family tradition, and says he doesn't want Brussels to ruin it.

"The Fischler plan calls into question our way of life," he said, referring to sweeping reforms of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), announced in July by Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler.

"We just need to know if they still want us, real farmers, in tomorrow's society or if consumers want to buy any old products, at lower prices," de Bohan noted.

French farmers are the biggest beneficiaries of the costly programme which, at EUR 40 billion a year, accounts for half of the total EU spending, and they say revamping the CAP will threaten their livelihood.

The heart of the CAP reform is to cut the existing link between direct subsidies and production, forcing farmers to base their crop choices on world market trends instead of big pay-offs.

Producers will also earn subsidies provided they respect certain environmental and animal-welfare standards

But de Bohan says the proposed plan is nothing but over-the-top economic liberalism that will reward US farmers - who won USD 173.5 billion in subsidies from the government over 10 years - and threaten food safety.

"European politicians, in an effort to save a minimal amount of money... are in the process of ceding the upper hand in agriculture to the over-subsidized Americans. Our food independence is at stake," he said.

De Bohan tends 200 hectares (500 acres) of wheat, barley, beets and peas in Fresnes-les-Reims, northeast of Paris. He also owns 400 bull calves, noting the importance of diversification when markets are volatile.

He said times the last decade had been rough, with wheat prices falling by half.

But de Bohan has still invested EUR 70,000 in his farm this year to boost productivity and keep up with environmental protection standards.

The livestock are fed organic products - no genetically modified feed here.

De Bohan points out it's not only his livelihood that is at stake - the farm's production also supports his father's family and those of three workers.

"Before giving in to the false alarms of Franz Fischler just to satisfy the countries of northern Europe who are not as dependent on agriculture, we must listen to southern Europe which feeds the world with products that are healthier and safer than ever," he warned.

"Otherwise, we'll be eating products like Russian and Ukrainian wheat, which are invading our markets at low prices but which have no safety guarantee," he added.

August 2002

Copyright AFP

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