The CAP has turned much of European farml _ I i t i a dead land
So we have been left with a system where 75 per cent of subsidies will go to 25 per cent of farmers; an inequitable system compensating the already rich for producing food we no longer trust, using methods which are destroying our environment.
This is not only potentially catastrophic for our own environment, wildlife and food quality. There are dire implications for Eastern Europe too. The main impetus behind the current round of reforms was to sort out finances before Eastern European countries joined the EU. The current levels of agricultural subsidies can't be stretched to include these countries. Neither would it be desirable to leave them to follow the
free-market model pursued by the USA and Australia, where pressure to produce food cheaply has led to equally horrendous consequences of intensive farming, like genetically modified food and overuse of hormones in animal rearing.
Eastern Europe is already under pressure with the introduction of large, Western-style monocultures, sometimes even by Western companies. In Hungary, a country with abundant and wonderful bird species, there are already severe losses of some grassland species like the Great Bustard, as the traditional meadows are converted into intensive arable farms. So the future of these countries depends on our ability to work out an environmentally-sensitive model of agri
culture which doesn't cost the Earth.
The only glimmer of hope offered by the spring reforms was the designation of certain funds for rural development schemes. The amounts are small - 4 billion, compared with the 40 billion on subsidies to environmentally-destructive arable and dairy subsidies. But some environmentalists believe that i f the government are held to account over their rhetoric on the environment, they could be pressurised to ensure that this money is funnelled into schemes that both produce food safely and protect the environment: in other words, into supporting a real expansion of organic farming and environmentally-sensitive rural schemes.
The public has to wake up on these
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 5, August/September 1999 issues before it is too late. There has been great progress on consumer awareness about food safety and environmental issues in the last few years. But now we also need to confront the complexities of agricultural politics and finances, so that ministers can be held to whatever small gestures they make towards reform. Otherwise, policy in this area will continue to be driven by those with vested interests. And who wants a countryside where the only things moving are the farmers shovelling piles of Euros from one trough to another? •
Ros Coward is a writer and journalist and a regular contributor to The Guardian. Her latest book Sacred Cow: Is Feminism Relevant to the New Millennium? is published by Harper Collins.
Genetic Engineering: the View from New Zealand Monsanto is homing in on New Zealand. Its first move has been to co-opt the government's food regulatory body. But resistance is mounting. By Jeanette Fitzsimons
The last thing I want to think about during the rare, precious time at my organic farm in a remote New Zealand North Island valley is the food and chemical giant Monsanto. But I sometimes do. Because my gardens, the native birds, and the rainforest-covered hills around our home are, like every species of life as we know it today, ultimately under threat from unchecked genetic engineering.
Right now, I am most worried by the time and money Monsanto and other large foreign genetic engineering companies are investing in New Zealand, and their huge effort in keeping government ministers and bureaucrats on side as we reach a crucial crossroads in this debate.
Monsanto is preparing an application for the country's first commercial release of a genetically engineered plant or animal - its oilseed rape (canola) which the firm plans to have planted over hundreds of hectares in the lower South Island by next year. We know this because Monsanto has already gone public with plans and is working on softening up the authorities.
Our Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, whom British tabloids have dubbed a South Pacific Maggie Thatcher, is trying to get as close to the United States' Clinton administration as Mrs Thatcher was to the Reagan one. Mrs Shipley's ministers, desperate for a US-NZ free-trade agreement - while admitting such an agreement is a long-shot - are openly backing genetic engineering. As far as the food giants are concerned, to count New Zealand's bureaucratic guardians among their champions is a great blessing. Few countries in the world have cultivated so green and clean an image. I f it's good enough for them, it must surely be good enough for everyone else!
Our Health Department, in a document just published, calls the Monsanto-partsponsored public relations organisation Gene Pool a "New Zealand organisation whose function is to ensure the widespread dissemination of balanced, accurate, credible and timely information
New Zealand PM Jenny Shipley and her ministers are desperate for US/NZ freetrade agreement and are openly backing genetic engineering.
about gene technology issues". Last year Coca-Cola South Pacific's Brian Lowe and Nestle's Lynette Finlay were officially and temporarily co-opted by our food regulatory body - the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) - and given the title "independent experts". The food authority, which as its name suggests sets food regulations in both countries, contains longer-term directors from the food and chemical industries. One of them is a former chairman of Nestle New Zealand. I have been told by European anti-GE campaigners that Coca-Cola and confectionery giant Nestle both produce genetically engineered products and I have a letter from Nestle New Zealand showing that it is, or was, a passionate advocate of the technology.
Despite its membership, the authority initially proposed labelling genetically engineered food on our shop shelves, but came under pressure from New Zealand ministers to back off. This kind of pressure is best seen by recently obtained minutes of a New Zealand cabinet meeting of 19 February, 1998, which was publicised far more widely in Britain than here. The minutes include the words: 'The United States, and Canada to a lesser extent, are concerned in principle about
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 5, August/September 1999