Subsidies for Deadly Crop May04



MORE than half a million European citizens die each year from diseases related to smoking. Despite this, European tobacco farmers, mainly in Greece, continue to receive up to 75% of their income from the EU's 750 milllion agricultural subsidies. At the same time, 500 million, from the 15 EU Member States, is spent on advertising the harmful effects of smoking and a further 5 billion is spent on treating EU citizens suffering from smoking-related diseases.


Why should the majority of non-smoking European citizens pay substantial taxes to finance farmers producing a crop that seriously damages our health? While the EU subsidy for growing food or crops for biofuel can be justified for strategic as well as environmental reasons, the subsidy for tobacco remains unjustified and unacceptable. Tobacco farming has been supported through the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for one reason alone: the CAP's commitment to guarantee farmer's income. There is clearly no justification for it in terms of the CAP's other objectives e.g. ensuring continuity of food supplies at reasonable prices.


Nevertheless, tobacco is a crop and is therefore eligible for CAP support. In fact, it has become the crop receiving the most intensive support, in terms of pounds per hectare (5,300 - as compared to less than 270 for arable crops and 420 for fruit and veg). Tobacco is farmed in eight Member States: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. The most important of these are Greece and Italy, which together produce about 75% of the EU total (nearly 350,000 tonnes per year).


The EU produces around 5.4% of the world's raw tobacco output. Discontinuation of the subsidy will eliminate EU production without any impact on world price as there is surplus capacity in many tobacco-growing countries outside the European Union. EU tobacco companies would continue to import their requirements for the manufacture of their tobacco products.


I believe that EU tobacco farmers should be given financial assistance for a limited period of time in order to help them grow alternative crops suited to their climate. With such help, they will be able to grow crops of high quality and value to ensure a thriving farming industry. The Common Agricultural Policy, financed by 30bn, must be reformed to help our farmers diversify from growing low value traditional crops to higher value quality items and to save the British taxpayer.


The European Commission is now moving towards a win-win situation by proposing that future subsidies should no longer support a particular crop but rather the farming community as such. Crops with a viable economic price on the open market will continue to be grown, but European tobacco, which is uneconomic in a commercial sense, will no longer be worth planting. Over the years, most production will cease. Farmers will not be faced with an immediate crisis, but enabled to develop alternative livelihoods.