A new survey of public opinion released today by the German Marshall Fund of the United States shows strong support for ‘consumer agenda’ in EU and US agriculture policies focused on food safety, the environment and the food supply. There was significantly less support for producer-oriented priorities like providing emergency financial relief to farmers, insuring farmers against unpredictable market conditions and preserving small family farms.
The survey was conducted in the United States and six EU member states (Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and the UK). Taking the European sample as a whole, the ‘consumer agenda’ is ahead by 9 percentage points. The strongest support was found in Slovakia (+37%), Italy (+28%) and the UK (+17%). US respondents supported the consumer agenda by a margin of 26 percentage points.
Only in Poland did the producer agenda predominate, largely because of a strong desire for preserving small family farms. 23 per cent of Polish respondents saw this as the top priority for agricultural policy. The other country where small farms were the top priority is Germany (29 per cent of respondents). In contrast, 42 per cent of EU farm subsidies in Poland go to the top 10 per cent of recipients. In Germany, 54 per cent of CAP farm subsidies go to the top 10 per cent of recipients.
The respondents in the survey were asked to select their top priority for agricultural policy from the following six options:
- Ensuring a plentiful supply of food
- Ensuring safe food
- Protecting the environment
- Providing emergency relief for farmers
- Preserving small family farms
- Insuring farmers against unpredictable market conditions
Food safety was the top concern for respondents in Italy (28%), Slovakia (28%) and the US (27%). In the UK the top priority was the supply of food, with 24 per cent of respondents selecting this as their top priority. In France, the most popular priority was environmental protection, with 27 per cent of respondents choosing this option, and 23 per cent choosing environmental protection. This is a very interesting result since the traditionally very powerful French farm lobby can be seen to be losing ground to environmental and consumer protection interests.
The other agricultural questions in the GMF survey concerned biofuels. The survey found robust support for biofuels as a way of tackling climate change (68 per cent in the EU) and increasing energy security (71 per cent in the EU), despite the mounting evidence that these gains are illusory or insignificant. See, for instance, the work of Ron Steenblik and colleagues at the International Institute for Sustainable Development. The biofuels boosters would seem to have retained their momentum into 2007, although the survey did find that 56 per cent of respondents agreed that biofuels production will result in increased food prices (37 per cent disagreed).
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