Yesterday I pondered the definition of farming?? I am still unsure whether we will need to change the definition into the future especially if we accept that in their everyday practices farmers deliver environmental benefits to the public good. Would those benefits be there if the farmer no longer managed the land? Some benefits maybe but not all, so it could be argued that farming delivers both positive and potentially negative environmental impacts. If the farmer delivers positive environmental benefits and if food production has a negative impact on the environment how should that be paid for in the global supply chain?
The easiest way would be to put an environmental tax on food and the people driving the impact would pay for it. The more food you buy the more environmental tax you pay as you are using more global natural resources and you are producing more environmental impact. Would any politician propose this? Probably not and how would this tax be effectively and transparently distributed to address environmental issues without being lost in a myriad of bureaucratic layers?
In the EC we can, and we are developing other mechanisms – providing payments to farmers to offset the costs they incur when producing food that are not paid for at the point of consumption. We also pay farmers for delivering environmental benefits for which they would not otherwise (through the market) receive adequate recompense. This however does not address the impact of human demand for food on the environment; we assume that as numbers rise and demand rises we will keep in step with our provision of food. This is not a sound assumption as many of the resources that we use soil, water, energy are finite. We can look for a myriad of measures but ultimately they make the cause and effect sums much too complicated.