On the one hand, it is often insinuated that Europeans eat tastier and healthier food thanks to the CAP. Such references cast food as an expression of the European way of life and juxtapose health-conscious Europeans and obese Americans. Without the CAP we would be eating nothing but hotdogs, popcorn, and ice cream – or so we are supposed to believe.
On the other hand, the CAP is bedeviled for boosting intensive monoculture production of food that contains few vitamins, minerals and whatever else is wholesome but a lot of pesticide residues, artificial flavors and whatever is unhealthy.
The truth is that the CAP has minor effects on the kind and quality of food we eat. The CAP mainly increases farm income – but this does neither incline farmers to produce better food nor does it convince consumers to change their eating habits. However, it is not a fault of the CAP that it contributes so little to food quality. The right way to improve food quality is through binding regulation, establishing notably maximum residue levels for hazardous substances. In addition, labeling can reveal food characteristics to consumers. It is then up to them to make healthy choices.
Still, CAP reform is likely to contribute somewhat to food quality. The prices farmers will get for the food would fall, so that the use of agro-chemicals would pay off less. Targeted agri-environmental payments would lead to further reductions in the use of agro-chemicals.
The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture is a strongly contested issue – between the US and the EU, between the member states, and domestically. But it is not a major topic for CAP reform. The same arguments apply to GMOs as to other production standards, such as for food safety and animal welfare. That is, EU standards equally pertain to imports, so that production will not relocate abroad to benefit from fewer restrictions. And where substantial and undesirable relocation is a serious threat, as it might be with EU meat production as GMO-free fodder is more expensive, support targeted to those threatened sectors is preferable. So strict EU limitation on the use of GMOs does not justify blanket support to agriculture, and such strict limitation can be maintained if the CAP budget is significantly curtailed.
After an initial hype, it has become clear that current biofuels have a limited potential to increase world energy supplies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that they are more expensive than other methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that direct and indirect land use changes threaten to eliminate or greatly reduce greenhouse gas benefits, and that biofuels have contributed significantly to crop price increases. Therefore, subsidies should not be directed at biofuel production but at developing better technologies to use biomass as a source of energy.
There is nonetheless a link to the future CAP: energy-uses of biomass will raise farm incomes and they will act as a floor to agricultural prices (at lower prices, more agricultural products will be transformed into energy – and the demand for energy is tremendous).