10 min read

My Taxes Shouldn't Cover The Real Costs Of Farming

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The European Parliament will be voting on the EU's 2015 budget. This can be expected to make a shocking contribution to animal suffering across Europe: historically, 40 percent of the EU's total budget (55 billion euros, or €100 per citizen per year) has served to prop up industrial farming via subsidies awarded under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

In other words, I may be an animal welfare campaigner; as an EU citizen I still have no choice but to subsidize animal abuse (along with environmental destruction, climate change and human health hazards) through my taxes. In England where I currently live, the NGO Friends of the Earth has calculated that £700 million of the CAP can go towards industrial farming in just one year.

Not only does this disregard the growing concern of European citizens for the treatment of animals (as indicated by the Eurobarometer on animal welfare), but it also flies in the face of the EU's own animal welfare precepts. The Lisbon Treaty states that "the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals", and the European Convention for the protection of animals professes that "animals should not suffer pain, injury, fear or distress."

The extreme animal suffering caused by industrial farming is well documented – so much so that it has motivated the EU to adopt animal welfare directives. Some of these (such as the "Pigs Directive") remain largely ignored by a number of member states (France sadly springs to mind), and there is a real enforcement issue. But somehow this is par for the course: we campaign for improvements; regulations come in; producers resist change; we campaign for enforcement. So perhaps more stupefying than these hurdles is the fundamental flaw in the EU's workings – sponsoring industrial farming on the one hand and regulating it on the other. Problem is, money speaks louder than the word of the law. And, at the risk of repeating myself, it's our money.

Our money is supporting an unfair system whose economics would collapse without it. The reason I say the CAP "props up" industrial farming is that agricultural subsidies are one of the hidden costs of factory farms, enabling them to produce food which is sold to consumers at prices that fail to reflect true production costs. When we buy conventional (i.e. industrially produced) meat, eggs or dairy at the supermarket, the price we pay at the till is only part of our bill; we make up for the additional cost through our taxes.

This additional cost includes subsidies on cereal for the feed of animals raised indoors. European Commission data shows that 58 percent of EU cereal production goes into animal feed, budgets for cleaning up the environmental damage caused by factory farms, and the burden of diet-related diseases on national health systems (in the UK, several studies have placed this around the £6 billion mark annually). One striking example is the millions of euros that French local authorities, i.e. taxpayers, have been spending on clearing Brittany's beaches of tonnes of green algae resulting from the high concentration of factory farms in the area.

More specifically, this is how the CAP favors industrial farming: it makes direct subsidy payments by hectare under its Single Payment Scheme, so that the largest producers and landowners receive the most money. It awards large payments for cereal production and places high tariffs on cereal imports – except on soy, which is used for protein in animal feed, thus minimizing input costs for industrial farmers who rely heavily on cereal and protein to feed the animals which they have taken off the land.

It grants export subsidies to the processing industry, increasing reliance on cheaper industrially produced meat and dairy and encouraging dumping, which spells disaster for small farmers in developing countries, and it awards payments based on historical receipt of subsidies and historical production quotas (thus perpetuating the flaws in the system).

If major costs weren't hidden or externalized, the products of industrial farming would have to be priced a lot more highly, and there might then not be such a mass market for them. In fact, the whole concept of factory farming (i.e. maximizing output while minimizing costs) would become lame and therefore useless to the large corporations currently hogging the market.

In the meantime, people are buying two chickens for £5 in a Tesco's or ordering a "bargain bucket" in a KFC, feeling they're getting a good deal when what they're actually getting is poor-quality meat, three times more fat and a third less protein than 40 years ago, with an added dose of antibiotic residue and Campylobacter, that's costing them, and the rest of us, dearly. Let's face it, there's no such thing as cheap meat, milk or eggs; they're just a myth for naïve consumers.

With €100 each, this is what we've collectively been buying for Europe: miserable living (and dying) conditions for 90 percent of so-called "meat" pigs, 90 percent of broiler chickens and over two thirds of laying hens. Such is the extent of industrial farming. Oh, and there's one more thing we've been paying for: farmers to breed and raise bulls for use in bullfighting. But with Green MEP Bas Eickhout's amendment to prohibit such subsidies due to be re-tabled, we have a chance to influence the European Parliament to end agricultural subsidies on breeding and raising bulls for bullfighting.

If you're a European citizen who doesn't want their 100 euros spent on supporting the bullfighting industry, please go here to sign the petition. Thank you.