Milking the Taxpayer

dairy factory farm

The ‘butter mountains’ and ‘wine lakes’ of Europe have long been a standing joke, the result of subsidies for the production of more of these commodities than there will ever be the demand for them to be consumed.  These are results of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), by which targets for the production of various foodstuffs are decided by the European Commission in Brussels with the monies for their production apportioned to different member states.  If this sounds reminiscent of Soviet-style ‘five year plans’, then it is more than a coincidence. The CAP is a political tool to bind member states to the ‘centre’ of the European Union (EU).  Taxpayers’ money flows into Brussels and the unelected Commissioners then decide where it goes.  In a normal market economy the supply of any foodstuff would follow the demand for it, so if the demand for butter for example were to fall then so would the production of it; but not in the EU, hence these ‘mountains’ and ‘lakes’.

The CAP pre-dates the transformation of the European Economic Community (EEC) into the European Union and was used as a means of integrating the agricultural economies of the member states in preparation for eventual political union.  France has always received the largest individual slice of the CAP cake and French livestock farmers are renowned for their militancy in opposing cuts to their subsidies and/or low prices for their goods.  The real reason that subsidies could be cut, but rarely are, is more meat being produced than will ever be eaten, as farmers have been subsidised to breed too many animals. This oversupply in meat production results in low prices. But the farmers want to have it both ways, to breed too many animals and to be paid a high price for their carrion.

However it is not that the complaints of livestock and dairy farmers in other countries are any more ‘justified’, it is just that they tend not to be as militant in their methods. Irish farmers have been known to bring Dublin to a standstill, whilst British farmers being British grumble but don’t do much else.  British dairy farmers complain about the low prices for cows’ milk that they receive from the supermarkets, whom they blame for exploiting them.  This is very rich, since it is the farmers themselves who are exploiting the cows and who receive subsidies for doing so.  The real reason for the low price of cows’ milk is that there is oversupply as a result of these subsidies, yet the farmers don’t complain about that.  Rather, what they want are government price controls. The low prices which dairy farmers receive for cows’ milk is an example of the market economy working in spite of, rather than because of, the CAP.

To summarise thus far, the industrialisation of farm animals forms a significant part of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is itself a foundation stone of the European Union (EU).  Until recently, the Green Party, which claims to support animal rights, advocated British withdrawl from the EU if the CAP were not abolished (this was specifically stated in its 1999 Manifesto).  Well, the CAP hasn’t been abolished and there is no sign that it will be, but the Green Party has now betrayed this promise at the very time when it would have been most popular!   The Green Party may naively believe that the CAP and the EU itself can be ‘reformed’ from within; alternatively it may have embraced the ‘globalisation’ that it has always claimed to oppose.

The European Union itself will in due course collapse under the weight of its own centralised bureaucracy as the Soviet Union did before it.  It is likely however that most of the national governments of European countries, regaining their independence, would continue the industrialisation of farm animals, as farmers form powerful political lobby groups.  For the electorates of these countries there should be more democratic accountability, which is say to that there should be some, as presently there is none.

All of this begs a question, would the CAP be acceptable if it did not include the industrialisation of farm animals?   Furthermore, if the CAP were entirely vegan, so only arable agriculture and companies selling foodstuffs of vegan origins were subsidised? We’d continue to subsidise the owners of French, German and Italian vineyards to grow poor quality grapes; the low-grade wine fermented from these could be then distilled into a form of biofuel.  We could pay the Greeks to produce millions of litres of Ouzo every year to help to rescue their economy.  Maybe the Eurocrats could reward us all with an annual Ouzo allowance?  It might even be enough to change Boris Johnson’s mind about Brexit.  So we need to look at the bigger picture to decide whether or not a ‘vegan’ CAP would be acceptable …

Agricultural surpluses are either stored indefinitely, in ‘lakes’ and ‘mountains’, destroyed, or just dumped onto developing countries, undercutting their own economies, which are more dependent on agriculture, than are those of the developed economies of Europe.  Heavily subsidised European farmers are able to undercut African farmers, destroying the livelihoods of the latter and keeping their countries in a state of post-colonial dependency on Europe.  This is the real reason for the continued poverty of African countries, which in turn drives mass migration from Africa into Europe (which has been going on for well over a decade and is unconnected to more recent immigration into Europe from the Middle East).  Concomitant with this, the EU imposes stringent import duties on agricultural products from outside the EU.  This is a distinctly French economic model, of which former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the friend of post-colonial African dictators, would be proud: a policy of protectionism at home whilst preaching ‘free trade’ elsewhere.

Examining this, the support given by the Guardian-reading British ‘liberal left’ for the EU is not merely distasteful, it is disgusting.  From a British perspective, the debate over continued membership of the EU has focused on unrestricted immigration and the downward pressure that this has had on living standards, in addition to the high level of British net contribution to the EU.  There has been little if any media coverage, least of all from the so-called ‘liberal left’, that the high rate of immigration is partly attributable to the poverty in developing countries caused by the CAP.  The cost to humans and animals of the CAP as well as the budgetary one should be a major electoral issue, but it has disappeared off the radar.  Because the CAP benefits large agri-business and other wealthy landowners, the mainstream media and most Eurosceptic politicans have deliberately ignored it.  The Green Party should be the political vehicle for opposition to the CAP, but the Green Party’s new-found support for the EU, because it is frightened to be identified as ‘right-wing’ or ‘nationalistic’, means that it is no longer a credible opponent of the CAP.