How can EU consume and produce fairer and better?

If the EU wants to reach its sustainable development goals, it must rethink its food production model, writes Stefan Eck.

Stefan Eck | Photo credit: Natalie Hill

By Stefan Eck

31 May 2017

How can the EU achieve sustainable development in Europe and around the world without wasting any more time? This is the big question that my colleague Seb Dance's report on EU action for sustainability tries to answer.

As shadow rapporteur on behalf of GUE/NGL - a group that has continuously questioned the dominant economic model, which is too dependent on the short-term depletion of natural resources - I see this report as a unique opportunity for Parliament's environment committee to agree on a set of strong recommendations to fight climate change, prevent further biodiversity losses and ensure more sustainable ways of production and consumption in and outside the EU.

The UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) impact on many of the EU's activities. Given the EU's particular responsibility as a world player and in the light of its previous commitments, I expect the environment committee to point the finger at the European Commission and member state failures while presenting courageous, alternative policy measures.


I will try to ensure the final blueprint of the report will reflect my deep concern with the way mainstream political and economic forces use nature for their own sake, to the detriment of public interest.

Growing inequality between and inside countries prevents progress on sustainable development, causing human exploitation, social unrest and in some cases war, political and religious extremism, poverty, hunger, economic and climate-related migration and irreversible environmental damage.

Despite its importance for humans and the economy, biodiversity is greatly threatened by human activities and continues to be lost. This alone estimated to reduce global GDP by three per cent each year. In Europe, 60 per cent of species assessments and 77 per cent of habitat assessments in Europe are in danger.

If the EU is serious about the so-called pillars of sustainable development - social, economic, environmental and governance - it must introduce a real shift in the way it allocates its financial resources. What better opportunities for that to happen than the upcoming CAP reform, the post-2020 financial perspectives or the 2030 development agenda?

Take the example of CAP, which accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the EU budget. In my daily activities as an MEP, I'm often confronted by the environmental blindness - or should I say irresponsibility - displayed by the most conservative sectors of Parliament, Commission and Council.

They have their mouth full of 'job creation', 'industry competitiveness' and 'economic reform', but usually don't want to hear about any real change in current economic patterns, even when reality proves them wrong and when more green sustainable alternatives exist, ready to be developed.

Take the example of intensive industrial livestock. Apart from the fact that an increasing number of Europeans are disgusted with the continuous, immoral treatment of the large majority of farmed animals resulting from such a system, there are also strong economic reasons against this. 

If everyone in the EU halved their meat and dairy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture would be reduced by 25 to 40 per cent and nitrogen pollution by 40 per cent. In addition, public health would dramatically improve, notably because generalised resistance to antibiotics would decrease significantly.

Worldwide the growing population of ruminants such as sheep and cattle is one of the biggest human-derived sources of greenhouse gas. According to the UN, emissions from livestock account for over 15 per cent of all human-caused greenhouse gases. 

Demand for meat contributes to considerable biodiversity loss as it is a significant driver of deforestation and habitat destruction. Species-rich habitats are being converted to agriculture for meat production. Nearly 40 per cent of global land surface is being used for livestock farming.

Yet the worst is yet to come. In 30 years, emissions related to agriculture and food production are likely to account for about half of the world's available carbon budget. However, while energy generation, transport and buildings have long been a target for governments and businesses looking to reduce emissions, the impact from food production has been omitted. The same applies to overfishing.

Despite its crucial importance for the survival of humanity, marine biodiversity is in great danger. Fishing is central to the livelihood and food security of hundreds of millions of people, especially in the developing world. One in five people on this planet depends on fish as their primary source of protein.

Unfortunately, it seems the EU is not playing its full part in protecting the fish stocks, notably in its fish agreements directed to third countries waters or when it allows environmental damage by its own and other people's ships. 

Against this background, perhaps the people of Europe should stop relying exclusively on political decision makers that are overly prone to the influence of mainstream lobbies. We are all citizens and voters. Therefore, we can all make a difference, do something for our world, our Earth. How? By producing and consuming fairer and better.


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