European food producers have expressed their dismay at major reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) requiring them to leave major proportions of farmland in a natural state.
European Union (EU) producers organisation COPA-COGECA was reacting to proposals released on 12 October by the European Commission to upgrade the CAP that requires 7% of farms to be conserved as field margins, hedges, trees, fallow land, landscape features, biotopes, buffer strips and forest areas.
On top of that, there must be areas of permanent grassland, which do not have to be grazed by livestock.
Cogeca called for more emphasis to be put on measures which improve the profitability and productivity of the EU agriculture and agri-food sector, as well as benefiting the environment.
This is essential if there is going to be enough food to feed the world's growing population at a price which people can afford, Copa-Cogeca said. Farmers will also be facing more extremes in weather as well as long term changes in climatic conditions.
Farmers will have to adapt, invest and modernise to meet these combined challenges. Measures to promote green growth, which Copa-Cogeca is proposing, is the only way to meet these combined challenges.
Copa and Cogeca Presidents stressed: "It does not make sense to require every single farm to stop producing on a certain percentage of their land (ecological set-aside) when world food demand is set to rise by 70% by 2050 and production is threatened by more extremes of drought, flooding and storms.
"The Commission proposal also runs counter to the Commissions' 2020 strategy for growth and employment".
The European Commission, however, said its proposal was balanced, with agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos saying his proposed reforms involved "a new partnership between Europe and its farmers in order to meet the challenges of food security, sustainable use of natural resources and growth".
A key element of the changes is strengthening the EU's ability to respond to commodity crises, which have buffeted Europe in recent years, for instance collapsing dairy and pork prices, plus the recent E. coli outbreak. Under the reforms, a new 'safeguard' power would enable the Commission to "take emergency measures to respond to general market disturbances".
The proposals confirm that the EU's quota restrictions on sugar production will expire in September 2015 and subsidies to food suppliers will become standardised across the EU, with all member states being told to ensure uniform payments per hectare at a national or regional level by 2019.
The proposals will now be discussed by the EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament who now share decision making powers over the CAP.