Press Release 25.09.2019

77 billion euros of damage to the climate caused by EU agriculture

foodwatch calls for radical targets for entire sector

Agriculture in the European Union is causing enormous damage to the climate and the environment. The CO2 emissions from agriculture alone result in climate costs of 77 billion euros per year. This is the conclusion of an evaluation of numerous scientific studies carried out on behalf of the European consumer organisation foodwatch. 

These environmental costs, however, have not played a significant enough role in European agricultural policy to date, the study says. foodwatch calls on the European Union to formulate radical CO2 savings targets for the entire agriculture sector, in order to create the incentives needed to produce our food without destroying the environment. The polluter-pays principle must also be applied: agriculture must pay for the climate and environmental damage it causes. According to foodwatch, this would finally make environmentally friendly products cheaper to the consumer than products which cause high environmental damage.

"The climate debate must not only revolve around air travel and SUVs, but we must also focus on agriculture. With the overproduction of meat and unnecessarily climate-damaging cultivation methods, today's agriculture is a huge CO2 catapult which the European Union is even promoting with billion-euro subsidies. The fact that there are still no binding CO2 savings targets for the agricultural sector is a scandal," criticized Thilo Bode, Director of foodwatch International. He said that piecemeal reallocation of subsidies in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will not do enough to restructure agriculture in a climate-friendly way. "Agricultural policy must finally become part of climate policy! For agriculture to be climate- and environmentally compatible, the polluter-pays principle, which has long been established in environmental policy, must also apply to agricultural policy. Those who cause climate and environmental costs must also pay for them. The perpetrators of avoidable environmental damage must not be rewarded with subsidies from taxpayers' money."
foodwatch’s meta-study analysed numerous scientific studies on the negative external effects of agriculture. These external effects are costs that arise from agricultural production, for example damage to a water supply and therefore a need to clean it - but the costs are not borne by the polluters but by the general public. The study evaluation shows "how enormous the external effects of agriculture are", especially on our climate. The CO2 effect of EU agriculture alone would result in external costs of around 77 billion euros per year, using the CO2 price of 180 euros per ton proposed by the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA). Instead 55 billion euros in taxpayers' money is distributed annually in the EU for agricultural subsidies – therefore subsidizing environmental damage. 

Groundwater, rivers and lakes are polluted, for example, by pesticides or liquid manure from agricultural production. Water companies and sewage treatment plants, paid for by public funds, incur higher costs to clean the water for human consumption. The main causes of the environmental costs are farms working with highly intensive conventional agricultural methods, especially in the area of animal husbandry. Here, for example, the energy-intensive cultivation of animal feed and the operation of stables and ventilation systems function at a high cost to the environment. In the case of plant products, the negative external effects are significantly lower, according to the study. 

As early as 2008, foodwatch had proven in an extensive study that organic agriculture alone was no solution. Although organic agriculture has overall ecological advantages over conventional agriculture, the climate balance in organic meat production, for example, can in some cases even be worse than in conventional production. Instead of debating systems, the consumer organisation demands the greening of all agricultural production by consistently applying the polluter-pays principle. 

Under terms such as CO2 emissions or CO2 effect, foodwatch has subsumed all climate-impacting emissions from agriculture in terms of CO2 equivalents.