Date of publication: 18 September 2018
European agriculture is drowning in a sea of red and green tape driven by activist anti-farming Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) which are slowly but surely shutting down their farmer’s right to farm.
Green groups such as PETA and Greenpeace have been quietly working away since the 1960s pressuring European bureaucrats with claims that modern agricultural practices were endangering the environment, the rights of animals; and the world’s food security and food safety.
Offering instead, a nirvana of a pre-war world of idealistic rural farming, of local produce supplying the local village, the small family farm producing an organic product in harmony with the environment; completely ignorant and dismissive of the fact modern farming provides safe, sustainable food and is capable of easily feeding the worlds 8 billion people. The threat that these anti-farming groups pose to modern agriculture by tying it up in costly bureaucracy is real and impeaching on Australia.
Recently the German Farmers Union commissioned a comprehensive analysis of EU regulatory costs impacting their farm businesses. It found that their dairy farmers were spending three times as much as Australian dairy farmers complying with regulations costing them €5.2 billion which is more than the total value of Western Australia’s grain production.
But a German farmer would find through reading any of our farming magazines that they do not suffer alone, our farmers are also under pressure as non-government organisations and Ministers for Agriculture, the Environment, Transport and Labour Relations continually lift the regulatory bar as they race to follow the European example.
The EU squeeze on the right to farm is relentless, each year it tightens the screws on agriculture through new environmental and climate change regulations as part of their Common Agricultural Policy which sets out how over €330 billion of subsidies is allocated to agriculture across the EU. For instance 30% of direct payments to farmers are now made conditional on compliance with three key greening measures: creating Ecological Focus Areas, keeping permanent grasslands, and setting minimum requirements on the number of crops that can be grown on a given area of arable land to avoid conversion into monocultures.
If you were to ask the average European farmer about how many farm inspections they must submit to in a given year; what proportion of those inspections must be random; how much a farmer can be fined if he makes a mistake; how much they will be fined if they make the same mistake twice; the maximum width of a gateway; the minimum width of a hedge; the maximum width of a hedge; what paddocks can be burnt, how clean the tractor tyres have to be to cross the road. The list goes on and it’s crippling agriculture.
Compliance with this plethora of farming regulations is a bureaucrats dream, they get to play big brother and enforce each new rule through a complex and draconian system of penalties called “disallowance”.
Auditors working for the EU Commission can levy fixed percentage fines against each of the member governments adding another layer of bureaucracy, as bureaucrats audit bureaucrats. The system may sound mad but the same is starting to occur here in Australia with the Commonwealth and State governments tripping over each other. Environmental regulations are starting to be imposed over and above state based regulations simply because the Commonwealth has signed up to an International Treaty. Its pure madness and it’s coming to a farm near you unless, we as an industry begin using our voice to push back and say enough is enough.
What we view as pampered subsidised European farmers, are really form filing farmers, so much so that some have sold up and decamped to Ukraine and even Australia to get away from the bureaucrats. The reality of farming in Europe is that the agricultural subsidies have become the hook-line-and-sinker; farmers have become inefficient and solely dependent on the European Union. Once hooked, farmers are locked in a death cycle with the EU as the NGOs have figured out how to force regulations into agriculture by linking them to subsidies. There is no escape. Trying to do even the simplest of things becomes complicated and often impossible for their farmers.
In a way this is good for Australian agriculture as it forces up the cost of production for European farmers, which has only been partly offset by subsidies. The system has allowed international NGOs to build up their global membership numbers and financial reserves, what we see now are formidable global forces that are so ‘cashed-up’ and have a common goal of ‘changing the world’.
In Australia the likes of the Animal Liberation Front and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are now infiltrating government departments and unions pushing for European so called ‘best practise regulations’.
A review of parliamentary travel reports will show that our bureaucrats and government Ministers preferred destination for fact finding is not surprisingly Europe, where they go to learn from the old world about new EU best practise regulations. Oddly enough they don’t seem to want to fly to the Ukraine, Russia or Brazil to see what our competitor governments are doing as they unburden and unleash their farming sectors from crushing red tape and watch them wind up their new tractors with full grunt and crank out millions of tonnes of grain into export markets.
As our competitors speed up we are slowing down under the weight of all pervasive regulations and unpredictable compliance systems as we have seen with the recent decisions by the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture on the cancellation of a live export licence without detailed justification.
We are creating an EU draconian style of bureaucracy; operating in a secretive way and refusing to be open, transparent and responsive to the current needs of modern day farming in a competitive global environment.
This is just a taste of things to come. Our world class farmers have allowed Australia to do its part in feeding the world but it has also attracted the attention of global anti-farming NGOs which unfortunately our politicians and bureaucrats seem to enjoy travelling overseas to learn from.
It is these same threats that Western Australian farmers will soon face. It is time our farmers stand up, step outside the boundaries of their own farms, board a plane and start talking to our European cousins to reinforce their need for a strong industry voice. The march of the regulators is already happening on Australian soil and it’s only a matter of time before our farmers are at the beck-and-call of an industry so burdened by red-tape, the right to farm will be a long lost memory.
By Trevor Whittington
WAFARMERS ACTING CEO