THIS year marks the 60th anniversary of the introduction of the Common Agricultural Policy - or ‘CAP’ as it is known - and while the UK is no longer a member of the European Union, the vast proportion of our agricultural policies are, for now at least, governed under legislation carried over from before we left the EU, writes FUW president Glyn Roberts.

If you listen to the howls from almost every quarter here in the UK, it’s hard not to get the impression that the CAP has been an unmitigated disaster, but in hearing such criticisms many of us are reminded of Monty Python’s line: ‘What have the Romans ever done for us... apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health?’.

While the CAP has been far from perfect and has caused untold damage in some respects - not least to some environments during periods where certain policies were enacted - most forget to judge the policy in the context it was originally formulated.

Like the 1947 Agriculture Act which it replaced in the UK from the 1970s, the original CAP had two overarching purposes: to provide sufficient amounts of affordable food to feed European countries, thereby preventing food insecurity and poverty while minimising food price volatility; and to provide fairer levels of income to farmers and agricultural workers.


Denbighshire Free Press:


Both the 1947 Agriculture Act and CAP were conceived after the Second World War had led to massive (often deliberate) disruption to food production and supplies, leading to the death by starvation of some 20 million people around the world, while many more millions suffered a range of health problems due to malnutrition, with diseases such as rickets commonplace and children’s growth stunted significantly in many areas.

Britain was not as badly affected as countries such as the Netherlands, where around 20,000 died of starvation, but food was scarce and hunger and malnutrition were still common.

Such was the impact of the war that food rationing did not end in the UK until the 1950s, a decade after the war had ended - a time when around a third of a UK household’s income was spent on food.

By 2019/20 this had fallen to just over 10 per cent.

With UK households now facing food price inflation of 3.5 per cent as a result of the war in Ukraine and other effects, and matters likely to get worse before they get better due to diverse impacts including massive increases in fertiliser prices and the severe drought affecting India’s 118 million farmers, it’s high time we asked ourselves honestly ‘what has the CAP ever done for us?’

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The truth is, for all its faults, it (and its predecessor, the 1947 Agriculture Act) has provided plentiful food supplies for generations at a fraction of previous prices, freeing up money for luxuries such as the holidays most of us are lucky enough to enjoy.

In fact, it’s delivered so well in terms of what it was originally intended to do that it’s become a victim of its own success, giving individuals and politicians the luxury of pontificating about how the CAP has been disastrous while they take full bellies and food security for granted.

Let us hope that the severe impacts of the Ukrainian war, energy prices and global weather events that recently led the IMF to declare a global food crisis lead politicians who wish to abolish public support for food production and sign trade deals with distant countries to do U-turns and start acting in the general public’s interest, rather than taking strips off the hands that feed them.