Europe's bird and insect populations, as well as heavily stressed terrestrial
ecosystems, face decimation as the European Commissioner for Agriculture plans
to scrap land set-asides for the 2008 season. This unexpected move is a response
to rising grain prices – caused by the growing biofuel sector and worsening
climate change impacts.
Europe’s common farmland birds have declined by nearly 50% since 1980, as a
result of intensive agriculture, including the grey partridge, corn bunting,
turtle dove, lapwing, whinchat, tree sparrow, skylark and linnet (see study at
tinyurl.com/2ezulh). 45% of Europe’s
butterflies are at risk of extinction and a recent study found 80% declines in
bee diversity and 70% declines in the diversity of wild flowers dependent on
pollination on hundreds of sites in the UK and Netherlands (tinyurl.com/yojh9w). As the authors of the study warned, the future Europe's ecosystem functionality
such as pollination and provisions of food supplies may be at risk as
pollinators are driven into extinction.
Set-asides were initially introduced for market reasons, but in an already
intensive agricultural landscape, large numbers of European birds, insects and
some mammals have come to depend on them for their survival (tinyurl.com/3yrw6y
and tinyurl.com/2mu2a4). The EU have
just commissioned a study about the environmental benefits of set-asides and a
longer-term review was supposed to look at ways of protecting our wildlife with
more targeted farming policies. In the meantime, however, plans to scrap all
set-asides for the next two seasons have been announced. Millions of birds could
be left without food and nesting sites next spring, and there will be little
hope of Europe meeting its commitment of halting biodiversity losses by 2010.
Politicians claim that there is no alternative but to increase Europe’s
agricultural production as food prices rise – but rising food prices are the
direct result of Europe and other governments promoting the expansion of
biofuels. Furthermore, the biofuel industry have long been lobbying for the
abolition of set-asides in order to open up more land for biofuel production.
Scrapping set-asides is likely to lead to more agricultural intensification,
possibly past sustainable terrestrial ecosystem limits; and more intensively
farmed monocultures for biofuels, with no evidence that this will mitigate
A study considered by the European Commission before the Biofuel Directive
was passed in 2003 (tinyurl.com/3cf9fs)
found that using all 5.6 million hectares of set-asides in 15 EU nations would
reduce those countries carbon dioxide emissions by no more than 0.3% - and even
that figure ignores the considerable nitrous oxide and soil carbon emissions.
Road fuel demand would be reduced by a maximum of 1.5%. By comparison, a study
by the German Ministry of Environment shows that carbon dioxide emissions from
road transport could be reduced by 11-24% if a speed limit of 100-120 km/h was
enforced (tinyurl.com/2zx6eu) – and
there is considerable scope for cutting emissions through strict fuel efficiency
standards and more sustainable transport and planning strategies.
Biofuel expansion for the European market is already causing massive
deforestation, biodiversity losses, displacements of local communities and loss
of food sovereignty in the global South – now Europe’s wildlife and remaining
terrestrial ecosystems are likely to become another victim. Please send the
letter below to ask Europe’s politicians not to scrap land set-asides until they
are substituted for a more sustainable EU agricultural policy based on organic
agriculture and biodiverse mixed farming system. Biofuel targets and incentives
must be abolished now, to protect biodiversity and food supplies worldwide.
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Trading birds for biofuels is no deal
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