How the EU undermines its climate goals with animal farming subsidies

Bloc's agricultural policy incentivises carbon-intensive animal farming over growing crops, despite aims to be carbon-neutral

Photo collage of a bar graph. One bar is large, representing animal agriculture with an assortment of cows and clouds of pollution emerging from it; the other, small, represents plant agriculture and is overlayed with an aerial view of a harvested wheat field, with a few wilting ears of wheat sticking out from it. In the background, the stars of the EU flag are visible.
European governments have recently watered down several green policies in the face of farmer protests
(Image credit: Illustration by Julia Wytrazek / Getty Images)

The EU aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 – but has been investing four times as much money into carbon-intensive livestock farming than growing plants, research has found.  

More than 80% of subsidies given to farmers through the bloc's common agricultural policy (CAP) went to animal products in 2013, according to a study published last week in the journal Nature Food: 38% directly and 44% for animal feed. The "vast majority" of CAP subsidies are going towards products that are "driving us to the brink", said study co-author Paul Behrens, environmental change researcher at Leiden University. 

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Harriet Marsden is a writer for The Week, mostly covering UK and global news and politics. Before joining the site, she was a freelance journalist for seven years, specialising in social affairs, gender equality and culture. She worked for The Guardian, The Times and The Independent, and regularly contributed articles to The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The New Statesman, Tortoise Media and Metro, as well as appearing on BBC Radio London, Times Radio and “Woman’s Hour”. She has a master’s in international journalism from City University, London, and was awarded the "journalist-at-large" fellowship by the Local Trust charity in 2021.