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A Danish view on agricultural reform


A Danish view on agricultural reform


Food issues are very much in the headlines with European consumers forced to pay more for what they eat and soaring prices causing food riots in developing countries. This comes as the European Union carries out a major review of the Common Agricultural Policy which takes 45% of the EU’s budget – mostly paid in subsidies to farmers. There is major disagreement among EU members on how the CAP should be reformed. Denmark, a major food exporter with a long agricultural tradition, wants to see member states follow its approach, including more environmentally sensitive farming, as the Danish Agriculture Minister Eva Kjer Hansen explained to EuroNews.

EuroNews: “What direction is the Council of the European Union taking regarding the Common Agricultural Policy and are there any sensitive subjects?”

Hansen: “The Danish point of view is that it should have had much more reform in it than it seems to have. But we do hope that we will get through with some changes and when you ask about sensitive issues, I would say that things like capping (setting upper limits for payments) and modulation (reduction of direct payments to large farms) are example of issues where the member states do not agree; so we are still discussing how far we should go and what kind of instruments should we use, at all.”

EuroNews: “Organic farming is an interesting alternative to address our environmental problems. So why do you think that organic farming still only accounts for such a small percentage of agriculture?

Hansen: “I think one of the main problems for organic products is the cost. They are priced higher and it’s more expensive for the farmers themselves to produce organic products. But what we have seen is a trend going really up, that consumers do want more and more organic products and our responsibility is to make it possible to have this kind of production and to support the farmers who want to change from conventional farming to organic farming.”

EuroNews: “Denmark is the country with the highest per capita consumption of organic products, why is that? Are the Danes more intelligent, or wealthier or just better informed?”

Hansen: “I’m not sure that there is a simple explanation, but I think it has to do with the fact that in Demark we talk a lot about nature and the environment. We want to take initiatives to protect our environment; animal welfare also plays a certain role in the discussion in Denmark. Then, of course, we are also in a situation where people can afford to buy those products.”

EuroNews: “Mad cow disease, poisoned mozzarella, contaminated wine – where are the European strict controls and how do you restore consumer confidence?”

Hansen: “It’s right to ask that question because we have seen examples of things going on that we wouldn’t believe could happen and I think that shows us how necessary it is that we continue at the European level to make regulations and have a secure control of what’s going on. So, yes, there are things that have happened and it shows us that we have to stick together and learn from one another on how we can best protect the consumers.”

EuroNews: “Is a common EU position possible on GMOs?”

Hansen: “I believe we should have a more positive attitude towards GMOs because it also gives the opportunity to have products that are better, when we look at nature and the environment, and there might be a development which can, for instance, reduce the use of pesticides and so on, but the actual problems that we face when we talk about GMO is a lack of feed in Europe and very high expenses for the farmers.”

EuroNews: “The alarming rise is the prices of wheat, rice and corn has sparked tension in developing countries and the situation isn’t much better in Europe: what measures can the EU take to stop this?”

Hansen: “First of all take away the restrictions we have had on production, like the milk quotas and the set-asides and put those fields back into use. And the other thing is the discussion about the GMOs and whether through more use (of them) we could do more on food production and the possibility of having enough food for people all over the world.”

EuroNews: “Are agricultural subsidies still necessary?”

Hansen: “I think we should make a long term strategy where we reduce the subsidies and instead use the money for taking care of the environment and nature and climate (change) problems. I do believe there are new problems arising and we have to seek ways to handle them and I think that’s a better way of using the money. So, giving priority to other issues than the typical subsidies.”

EuroNews: “The farmers’ worst enemy is bureaucracy; asking for financial aid has become a headache for most farmers: how can you simplify this process?”

Hansen: “I believe the best thing we could do would be to remove some of the subsidies, because an obvious follow up on having a lot of subsidies is that it has to be controlled. The best way of simplifying would also be to have a real reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and change it from giving subsidies to paying the farmers for taking care of nature.”

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