Greening the Common Agricultural Policy

Written evidence submitted by the National Heart Forum (GCAP 15)


The National Heart Forum [1] (NHF) is an alliance of 65 organisations working to reduce the risk of avoidable chronic diseases including coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and

diabetes. The views expressed in this submission do not necessarily reflect the opinions of individual members of the alliance.

The NHF sees Common Agricultural Policy as an important lever in promoting good health amongst Europe’s citizens. The NHF is a founder and current board member of the European Public Health and Agriculture Consortium [2] whose aim is to create a healthier, more sustainable agriculture policy.

Europe needs a strong and effective European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), now more than ever as witnessed by recent market volatility and global economic crisis. CAP is essential in guaranteeing how food is produced, distributed and consumed both at European and global level. Europe needs a CAP that is based on a model of how farming and food can deliver multiple benefits to society including public health where healthy foods remain the focus of agriculture policy and public health is considered as a public good.

Rather than attempt to answer the questions directly set out by the committee the NHF will set out why we believe that the adoption of public health goals within the CAP will have significant co-benefits in greening the CAP. The NHF believe that the greening of CAP could potentially have a positive impact on both food production and public health.


1. Europe needs a CAP that is based on a model of how farming and food can deliver multiple benefits to society including public health where healthy foods remain the focus of agriculture policy and public health is considered as a public good. The NHF believe that the adoption of public health goals within the CAP will have clear co-benefits with respect the current agenda to "green" the CAP.

2. Current consumption patterns in the EU are not sustainable in relation to challenges relating to public health and chronic disease, food security and climate change. Focusing only on technology to increase production and mitigate agriculture’s impact on climate is not sufficient to meet these challenges [3] .

3. There is a clear political mandate for these types of changes to the CAP. A recent Eurobarometer report (March 2010) [4] showed that European citizens` primary demand from agriculture policy safe, high quality and healthy food at an affordable price. People expect that the CAP is based on equity, the universal right to safe, affordable, nutritious food and good governance and transparency in the food supply chain, also reaching beyond the EU boundaries.

4. The citizens support a European agriculture policy that:

- provides a decent standard of living for European farmers without detrimental impacts on agriculture and on economy of developing countries

- contributes to strategies aimed at preventing chronic diseases and at reducing health inequalities by improving the availability and access to healthy foods

- delivers a "greener" agriculture policy aimed at addressing adequately challenges of climate change and protecting the environment by reducing green house gas emissions from food production and transportation. Food and agriculture production make a substantial contribution green house gas emissions, and actions should be taken to reduce the impact on climate change

- contributes to the conservation of natural resources including those relating to biodiversity, soil, and water.

5. Today our food system supports unhealthy diets high in calories, fat and salt, and low in fruit, vegetables and grains; it is dependent on under-priced fossil fuels and does not recognise the limitations of water and land resources. Rising energy costs, losses in biodiversity, climate change and declining water and land resources threaten the future of our current food production system .

6. Diet related chronic disease is one of the major challenges for sustainable growth in the UK and across the EU . Cardiovascular disease and cancer are the major causes of death in the EU, and together with obesity and diabetes impose substantial costs to the EU Member States. Modelling work by the National Heart Forum estimates that if unchecked current obesity trends alone will cost the NHS a further £2 billion per year by 2030 [5] . Agriculture and the CAP can play a significant role in preventing chronic disease and improving health and at the same time greening the CAP .

7. In terms of public health, the future CAP needs to support healthy diets by prioritising the production of more plant based products, i.e. it should contribute to reduced consumption of products of animal origin and increased consumption of fruit, vegetables and whole grain for human consumption.

8. Diet is not only one of the primary determinants of chronic non-communicable diseases, but consumption patterns also play a role in climate change, global food security and limited land and water resources. Provision and consumption of food have a complex relationship with health and the environment. In the UK, it is estimated that production, distribution and consumption of food accounts for 22% of total greenhouse gas emissions [6] . Current production, distribution and consumption patterns favouring highly processed foods, increased food miles, and food swaps plus excessive consumption of red meat and dairy products have a detrimental effect on the environment.

9. Livestock, both meat and dairy production, has been estimated to account for as much as 18 % of total global CO2 emissions [7] . In the EU, it is estimated that 16 % of CO2 emissions come from livestock (Eurostat 2009).Shifting current dietary patterns towards plant based diets would have a larger impact on climate change than changing production methods.

10. The scale of the global water crisis is gaining increasing political importance, and is already affecting some regions of the world [8] . Agriculture is the greatest user of water worldwide, accounting for an estimated 70% of potable water use [9] . Agricultural water has increased during the last two decades; reasons for this include CAP subsidies for water intensive crops tended by inefficient techniques which results in farmers not paying the full price of the water used in production. Livestock production also plays a significant role [10] . Globally, livestock uses 70 per cent of all available agricultural land, and uses 8 per cent of the global human water supply [11] . Estimates suggests that between 15 – 23% of the world’s water is used for livestock [12] .

11. The global spread of intensive farming has led to a major increase in the use of high protein animal feeds, comprising cereals and vegetable proteins such as soy, and is affecting global food security. It is estimated maximum world grain capacity at 3300 million tonnes per annum, only 60% more than today, and suggests that a looming gap between food production capacity and a growing global population [13] . Western diets place huge demands on production elsewhere, 97%of the soy meal produced worldwide is used for animal feed, and exponential growth in the developing world’s demand for dairy and meat products will exacerbate global food security [14] . Production of meat requires far more feedstock than the production of a legume, grain product, fruit, or vegetable and thus exacerbates increases in food price [15] .

12. Moving towards plant based diets, doesn’t mean strict vegetarian or vegan diets, but reducing the amount of animal based dietary constituents, and increasing plant based constituents such as grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables. The current global average meat consumption is 100 g per person per day, with about a ten-fold variation between high-consuming and low-consuming populations. 90 g per day is proposed as a global target, with not more than 50 g per day coming from red meat [16] .

13. Improved coherence of the European policies, including public health, food safety, trade, development, regional, environment, climate change, consumer and social policies is needed. The CAP should contribute to the optimal functioning of the food system in relation to these policy areas. Food and agriculture policy should be part of a coherent strategy to address inequalities in health outcomes.

14. Current patterns of production and consumption are neither sustainable nor realistic, and the EU policies and instruments must provide incentives to create positive change. The CAP should address extreme volatility in food prices in order not only to ensure the livelihood of farmers but also to ensure that food remains affordable. Therefore, instruments should be developed that not only manage crisis but work towards a more sustainable and fair food system, addressing concentration of power in the food system and chain supply. Whether those set out within the CAP reforms will achieve these remains to be seen.

15. EU agriculture policy can and should contribute to meeting increasing demand for food. In order to achieve this, not only technology that increases food production will be required, but incentives to move production and consumption towards increasingly plant based diets are needed. CAP tools should ensure production of foods that contribute to maintaining health, in particular fruits and vegetables. This entails less support for the production of meat and dairy.

November 2011



[3] Friel S, Dangour AD, Garnett T, Lock K, Chalabi Z, Roberts I, Butler A, Butler CD, Waage J, McMichael AJ, Haines A., Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: food and agriculture. Lancet. 2009 Dec 12;374(9706):2016-25.

[4] Eurobarometer ( March 2010 )

[5] Wang C, McPherson K, Marsh T, Gortmaker S, Brown M(2011); Health and economic burden of projected obesity trends in the USA and the UK. Lancet 378:815-215

[6] UKCERK. Catering Policy (available online,

[6],com_docman/task,doc_download/gid,235 ).

[7] Lantmannen (2006) ; Livestock's Long Shadow, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome.

[8] Popkin , B. M. (2009) ; Reducing meat consumption has multiple benefits for the world's health. Arch.Intern.Med ., 169, (6) 543-545

[9] European Environment Agency (2009) ; Water Resources across Europe - confronting water scarcity and drought . European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

[10] Clarke R and King J (2004) ; The Atlas of Water: mapping the world's most critical resource . Earthscan , London.

[11] Friends of the Earth (2009) ; What ’ s Feeding our Food? T he environmental and social aspects of the livestock sector, Friends of the Earth, London.

[12] Ibid 7

[13] Frey, S and Barret , J. (2007); Our health, our environment: The Ecological Footprint we eat." in International Ecological Footprint Conference 'Stepping up the Pace: New Developments in Ecological Footprint Methodology, Applications. Cardiff .

[14] Ibid 6

[15] Ibid 7

[16] McMichael, A. J., Powles , J. W., Butler, C. D., and Uauy , R. (2007). Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health. The Lancet, 370, (9594) 1253-1263


Prepared 30th November 2011