The problem with the EU Common Agricultural Policy – TLIO information briefing

Cap Welfare Payments to the Rich!

Reinventing a Common Agricultural Policy for ecological, economic & social sustainability.

The current Common Agricultural Policy (C.A.P) agreement between the members of the EU exists to distribute agricultural subsidies to the farming industry across Europe.

What are the origins of C.A.P? The Common Agricultural Policy (C.A.P.) was set up by the founders of the European Community in the aftermath of WW2 to stabilise food supplies and guarantee fair incomes for farmers.


The problem

In recent years, the system of subsidies changed to one based on how much land is owned or cultivated, rather than the amount of crops produced. Under this change to a system called Single-Farm Payments, though effective in reducing over production, landowners now get paid for owning land. Landowners get between £60 & £90 per acre, with the only provision to maintain the land appropriately which currently amounts to occasional maintenance. Whereas the bulk of subsidies have always gone to those who own the most land, the reforms have intensified this situation.

The CAP has also been monopolised by wealthy, landed interests, particularly in Britain where 2/3rds of its 60m acres are, rather amazingly, owned by only 0.26% of the population. Of that, the vast majority is owned by the even more astonishingly small number of just 1200 individuals. Some of the biggest recipients are able to use the money received to buy more land year-on-year and so get ever larger subsidies. Between 2005 and 2011 the number of landholdings in England fell by 10%, while the average size of holding rose by 12%. Landowning benefits of using land as an increasing store of wealth are obvious – farmland is exempt from inheritance tax so it pays to buy up farms to avoid tax.

In some cases landlords renting land out pocket the subsidy for land actually worked by tenant farmers! Like the farcical trade in milk quotas, it has also given rise to a trade in those subsidies which has more in common with the failed financial sector than the honest intentions of the original treaty.

The C.A.P. welfare bonus
Under the ‘Single-Farm Payment’ system of distributing agricultural subsidies, in the UK, huge annual C.A.P. payments and other financial aid went out to –

– the Duke of Buccleuch £549,000, the Duke of Westminster £532,144, Lord Carrington £149,000, to MP’s, for example Richard Drax MP got £417,846 in financial year 2010-11, to dukes, earls… to Prince Charles £581,000 …

H.M.Queen was paid £1,183,508 C.A.P. over 2 years (08 & 09) for privately-owning Sandringham.

Tate and Lyle received Euros 829,975,239 in payments between 1999 and 2011 (source:

In 2010, 709 UK recipients got more than £250,000, 133 were given at least £500,000 and 47 received more than a million pounds.

Owners of bulk land – especially agri-businesses, plc corporations and giant food processors – get the lions share of CAP money. In 2009, one £81m cheque went to British Sugar plc. Unilever, Nestle, RSPB, banks, distillers, get £millions. Meanwhile, whilst large farms sell at rock-bottom prices, farmers with small capacity struggle with tight margins in a marketplace dominated by actors who wield disproportionate power (ie. supermarkets and processors).

Since 2010, details of individuals’ holdings have been removed by Defra from the web site – due to objections.

The Case for a new Agricultural Policy in the UK
Reforming the CAP should focus on one of the original tenets of the Treaty of Rome to “ensure the optimum utilisation of the factors of production, in particular, labour“. Britain holds the smallest percentage of agricultural workers in the world, and that workforce is an ageing workforce. A third of one percent of the population, some 116,000 people, work the land. The inequitous subsidy system combined with our vertically-integrated food system driven by the corporate sector leaves the UK with a deserted countryside and vapid rural society/economy.

Structural reforms to the CAP subsidy system for agriculture would divert funds away from barley barons to small farms, allowing them to once again thrive in a competitive marketplace. There should be an upward limit on subsidies – no subsidies for large farmers, possibly with the exception of organic agriculture. And subsidies should be conditional on farmers practicing low-input agriculture to limit environmental externalities of modern farming methods (eg: pesticide use).

Subsidies for Sustainable Agriculture

Small farms almost always produce more output per unit area than large ones. This holds true, both in rich countries and the majority world.  The “inverse relationship between farm size and output” is now widely recognized by agronomists across the political spectrum, Barret, 1993; Ellis, 1993; Tomich et al., 1995; all agree on this point.

Whereas, large farms tend to monoculture because of heavy machinery and the rigidity of big systems, the greater flexibility and attention to detail inherent in small farms enables far more  mixing, combining and rotation of crops and livestock, with manure and compost replenishing soil fertility (denuded fertility is a huge, looming issue across the EU).

Small farms are by far the most successful and environmentally desirable model of agriculture. Preserving and increasing their numbers should be the highest priority of agricultural policy. Instead we have a system that subsidises the wealthiest in society, distorts markets and encourages the concentration of land in fewest hands.

This is the opposite of CAP’s original aim.

Our Solution

There is a new constituency of aspiring farmers with a real awareness of the wider social and environmental impact of how we use the land. They need to be able to access land and an appropriate level of subsidy, so they can deliver positive impacts on food quality and security, the rural economy and the environment.

CAP, along with land redistribution, could be tailored to bring about a new dawn in British farming. These are the issues TLIO campaigns on.

The Land is Ours proposes that:

  •  Only those directly engaged in agricultural production should get subsidies, with an upper limit equal to the national average income;
  • National conservation bodies and branches of government involved in conservation and other desirable C.A.P. funded activities should receive equivalent national funding from the money saved;
  • All payments should be conditional on more exacting, rigorous standards of land management, including measures to protect nature, forbid harmful land management, protect important landscape and cultural assets, beneficial standards of animal welfare and sustainable food production, and for suitable land to be used for food and other natural resource production;
  •  A maximum payment should apply to private landowners (but not for publicly owned land), to prevent payments for conservation becoming a loophole that provides subsidy to the land-rich purely for owning acres.

These measures would help keep prices reasonable for consumers.  Safe, healthy food raised properly is a basic human right and is deserving of state support.

Now is the time to exert pressure on policy-makers and re-direct the money towards genuinely sustainable production.  Far-reaching land redistribution is required to make this effective.  So let us also take back our true and just inheritance – the Earth and all that grows on it.  The Land is Ours!

What You Can Do:

  • Write to your M.P.
  • Copy your letter and any replies to our website.
  • Distribute this leaflet in your area, available from

Some positive suggestions for reform of CAP have also emerged here:

Sources of INFORMATION  on  C.A.P. PAYMENTS in U.K.  for payments across Europe.
Produced by The Land Is Ours

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