$1m a minute: the farming subsidies destroying the world - report

‘Perverse’ payments must be redirected to measures such as capturing carbon, report says


Damian Carrington, The Guardian (UK) 

16 Sep 2019


The public is providing more than $1m per minute in global farm subsidies, much of which is driving the climate crisis and destruction of wildlife, according to a new report.


Just 1% of the $700bn (£560bn) a year given to farmers is used to benefit the environment, the analysis found. Much of the total instead promotes high-emission cattle production, forest destruction and pollution from the overuse of fertiliser.


The security of humanity is at risk without reform to these subsidies, a big reduction in meat eating in rich nations and other damaging uses of land, the report says. But redirecting the subsidies to storing carbon in soil, producing healthier food, cutting waste and growing trees is a huge opportunity, it says.


The report rejects the idea that subsidies are needed to supply cheap food. It found that the cost of the damage currently caused by agriculture is greater than the value of the food produced. New assessments in the report found producing healthy, sustainable food would actually cut food prices, as the condition of the land improves.


“There is incredibly small direct targeting of [subsidies at] positive environment outcomes, which is insane,” said Jeremy Oppenheim, principal at the Food and Land Use Coalition (Folu), the collaboration of food, farming and green research groups that produced the new report. “We have got to switch these subsidies into explicitly positive measures.”


He said the true global total was likely to be $1tn a year, as some subsidies are difficult to quantify precisely: “That trillion dollars of public funding is available and is a massive, massive lever to incentivise the farming community across the world to act differently.”


A series of major recent reports have concluded the world’s food system is broken. It is driving the planet towards climate catastrophe while leaving billions of people either underfed or overweight, 130 national academies of science and medicine concluded in November. Another report found that avoiding meat and dairy was the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, with livestock using 83% of farmland to produce just 18% of calories.


The “planetary health diet” published by scientists in January requires an 80% cut in the red meat eaten by Europeans and North Americans. Adopting this diet in coming decades would mean 60% of today’s pasture could be used for wildlife or other purposes, an area similar to the size of Brazil.


But Oppenheim said: “We couldn’t find any examples of governments using their fiscal instruments to directly support the expansion of supply of healthier and more nutritious food.”


Overall, the Folu report said the damaging way the world currently produces food and uses land causes $12tn a year in hidden costs to the environment, human health and development.


“Continuing on current trends means sleepwalking into a scenario wherein climate change increasingly threatens human life, biodiversity and natural resources are depleted, people increasingly suffer life-threatening, diet-induced diseases, food security would be compromised, and [poverty reduction] is seriously impaired,” it said. “Such a pathway would within a few decades threaten our collective security.”


But it said transforming the food and land use systems in the next decade is a remarkable opportunity, which could reap a societal return more than 15 times the investment costs required, which are estimated at less than 0.5% of global GDP.


Transforming food and land use would also make the food supply more secure, said Oppenheim:






Growing Better: Ten Critical Transitions to Transform Food and Land Use

The Global Consultation Report of the Food and Land Use Coalition September 2019


For people, nature and climate


There is a remarkable opportunity to transform food and land use systems, but as the challenges are growing, we need to act with great urgency. The global report from the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) proposes a reform agenda – centred around ten critical transitions – of real actionable solutions. These could deliver the needed change to boost progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement, help mitigate the negative effects of climate change, safeguard biodiversity, ensure more healthy diets for all, drastically improve food security and create more inclusive rural economies.


link to full report