BRUSSELS (AP) — Farmers and activists from all over the continent converged on European Union headquarters Wednesday to push for a food policy that is fairer to family farmers and kinder to the environment and developing nations.
Behind tractors, several hundred protesters, some of whom have been cycling or walking for weeks in the Good Food March, gathered for a mass brunch outside the European Parliament in Brussels, where a reform of the costly pan-EU farm system is being discussed.
From the culinary Slow Food movement to the Friends of the Earth environmental group, eight major organizations set up the march to push demands to drastically revamp policy away from industrial farming.
The coalition united under the slogan "EU farm policy must be fundamentally changed" regarding a new seven-year program that kicks in after 2013.
Within the 27-nation EU, the protesters charge that farming is geared far too much toward big agribusiness at the exclusion of family farming. The demonstrators carried signs saying "Size does matter" and "No to mega sties," in their calls for small farming initiatives.
They claim that large farms and agricultural multinationals are endangering the environment with chemicals and genetically modified organisms, while also increasing pressure on food prices.
"We are going around and around, and nobody wants to take responsibility for the current situation and the misery in which the agricultural world is in," said Erwin Schopges, chairman of the Belgian Milk Producers Association, after he had an argument over milk prices with EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos outside EU headquarters.
The 50-year-old Common Agricultural Policy has been a cornerstone of EU plans and was instrumental in staving off the threat of hunger early on before it got mired in overproduction and runaway subsidies that distorted the global agricultural markets and gave rise to trans-Atlantic trade conflicts.
"How can the EU citizens continue to accept this agriculture?" said Green farmer Jose Bove, who is vice chairman of the European Parliament's farm committee.
The European Commission has made proposals to promote employment and growth in rural areas to make sure the bloc's 16.7 million farmers can continue to keep a leading place in world farming, but Wednesday's protesters want it geared more away from industrial farming and subsidies that help undercut global prices.
"We want fair conditions for farmers, a greener countryside and an end to policies that are harming poor people in developing countries," said Stanka Becheva of Friends of the Earth.
The EU nations are seeking to conclude their negotiations on the euro1 trillion, seven-year budget by the end of the year, but the European economic crisis has reduced the outlook for a quick compromise.
The EU farm budget proposals alone stand for euro390 billion.
During the negotiations of the reform, big agricultural nations such as France and Germany, which rake in much of the EU subsidies, are often opposed to groups within the European Parliament seeking urgent reform.