EU\'s sugar policy not best for environment - report
BRUSSELS - The EU\'s price support system for its sugar producers has helped maintain particularly intensive farming methods with high environmental risks, a report commissioned by EU agriculture chiefs said.
The veiled criticism came as Australia and Brazil attack the EU\'s whole sugar regime at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for export subsidies, which, they say, have helped distort world prices. The EU has stood by its sugar system.
The study, compiled by the London-based Institute for European Policy, says the area of land in the 15-nation bloc devoted to sugar production would be significantly lower than it is today if price support and quotas were removed.
Land now used to grow sugar beet would then, probably, be used to grow other arable crops which might imply lower levels of pesticides, nutrients and soil erosion than for a beet crop.
\"Theoretical considerations support the view that the regime has helped to keep in place a particularly intensive production system associated with high environmental risks, which would not prevail otherwise, at least at the current level,\" the report said.
\"In the absence of price support and production quotas, the EU would probably devote a smaller area of land to sugar production and this could bring benefits of lower input use, reduced water use and/or reduced soil erosion in some areas.\"
However, the net environmental effect would depend upon the pattern and intensity of subsequent land use in all those areas where farmers ceased sugar production, it said.
The report, requested by the Agriculture Directorate-General of the European Commission, was started in November 2000.
In southern EU states, where beet is grown on irrigated land, reductions in price support along with reforms to national water policies could be an effective strategy to combat environmental problems, the report said.
EU support policies led to significant consequences for the environment in southern Spain, for example, when irrigation was introduced in arid areas. In turn, this caused consistent overproduction with a more negative impact on the environment.
The EU produces around 14 percent of the world\'s sugar, with France ranking as the world\'s largest producer of sugar beet. Most sugar production in the 15-nation bloc is relatively intensive and involves very high levels of herbicide use.
The bloc is expected to produce 18.41 million tonnes of sugar, raw value, in 2002/03 against 15.97 million in 2001/02, according to respected German analysts F.O. Licht.
While the EU has come under fire from other world producers for its sugar policy, mainly on export subsidies, the European Commission has recognised that the regime has difficulties and must be reformed. Discussions on this will begin in early 2003.
The EU, the world\'s largest sugar importer, has countered the Australian and Brazilian accusations by saying it has been reducing import barriers. It also insists that its policies help farmers in the Third World.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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