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A Born-Again CAP

WAGENINGEN, NETHERLANDS – Born in 1957, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is now more than 50 years old, and the European Commission is proposing what it calls a health check for its middle-aged child. But superficial repairs will not meet the European Union’s future needs. The CAP must be born again.

Work on its renewal is due to start now, with the completed project ready in 2013. But a much more profound re-think is needed.

The CAP’s original aim was to provide a secure source of food for the six original member states of the Union, which were importers of food and sought a degree of self-sufficiency. Good, healthy, and cheap food had to be accessible for all citizens. Improved agricultural productivity would benefit rural areas and give farmers a comparative share in the Union’s growing wealth. Instruments to achieve those objectives were developed, and food security was achieved. The CAP quickly came to be seen as the jewel in the crown of the European project.

As the EU has evolved and expanded, food systems have become more complex, involving production, processing, supply-chain organization, and wholesale and retail distribution, with all of these involving new issues like health and the environment. The use of land is also receiving more serious scrutiny.