Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Agriculture and Climate change

Adelina Marini, April 18, 2009

One of the main reasons for global warming appear to be the large areas, used by people to feed animals for food. This is what Jeremy Rifkin, an economist and member of the International Forum for Globalization, says. As an expert he takes part in the unusual and first of its kind meeting of the ministers of agriculture of the G8 in Treviso, Italy today and tomorrow.

Rifkin claims that it is not acceptable that from 40 % agricultural land, almost half is used to feed animals so that people can eat meat. It is proved, says Rifkin, that animals' dejecta is much more serious air polluter than even carbon dioxide. In other words, the attempts of wealthier countries where consummation of meat is bigger, to stop global warming are directed into the wrong way because feeding animals for food has much bigger green gas effect than all of the traffic that generates CO2. The economist suggests a solution which actually exists for millennia - Mediterranean diet - more fruit and vegetables, rarely meat - that is either healthy and responsible for the planet.

Politicians though have different vision for agriculture. American state secretary for agriculture Tom Vilsack states that agriculture should be considered not only as a tool for feeding but also as a market tool to boost economy. According to Vilsack, again in an interview for the organizers of the G8 ministers of agriculture meeting, poor and developing countries should be given the opportunity to develop farming not only to feed themselves but also for export because this would boost their economies. Of course, this is an old idea which meets some very serious obstacles. The idea found its global format - The Doha Round which main task is to find the balance between the desire of the rich countries to keep their wealth giving the poor the chance not to die starving. A serious step in this direction is the abolition of farming subsidies which rich countries pay their farmers to secure social peace but in return their stumble the competitiveness of the farmers of developing countries whose production becomes impossible to sell. A good example is the CAP (Common Agriculture Policy) of the EU which covers 44 % of the overall budget of the EU and was a subject of serious disputes among member states when negotiating the budget.

Of course attempts to find a balanced solution to the problems of global warming and the lack of food for some while colossal surpluses for others, often is used by big corporations to negotiate lucrative conditions. This is the case with companies dealing with genetically modified farming. In this context was the interview of German agriculture minister Ilse Aigner. As a typical representative of the countries that are reserved toward genetically modified food, Germany has not rejected entirely the usage of genetically modified products but insists for convincing proof that their are harmless for people. In fact, disputes about the harms and advantages of genetically modified farming had lead to trade wars between the US and the EU. At this stage there's a compromise according to which some member states allow import of a specific kind of genetically modified maize for example. Negotiations for enlargement of the list of imported genetically modified farm products or seeds still continue. In addition the position of the new American administration toward the GMO and related products remains still unclear.

Today was the first plenary session of the ministers of agriculture of the G8 and in the afternoon they were joined by the ministers of G5 - Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa as well as their colleagues from Australia, Argentina and Egypt.