Controls on agricultural production

The way in which food is produced by farmers in the EU is influenced by the Common Agricultural Policy. Farmers can also choose to farm organically or to sign up to schemes that encourage environmentally-friendly farming.

The common agricultural policy

The common agricultural policy (CAP) is one of the EU’s oldest policies (it was launched in 1962). It supports farmers with the aim of ensuring food security across all countries in the European Union [1]. It’s managed and funded at European level from the resources of the EU’s budget. The EU website state that the main aims of the CAP are:

  • to support farmers and improve agricultural productivity, so that consumers have a stable supply of affordable food
  • to ensure that EU farmers can make a reasonable living
  • to help tackling climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources
  • to maintain rural areas and landscapes across the EU
  • to keep the rural economy alive promoting jobs in farming, agri-foods industries and associated sectors

An example of the way in which the CAP provides farmers with direct support is through income support such as the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) - the biggest of EU rural grants and payments. In order to qualify for BPS, farmers need to comply with a series of management requirements and they must ensure that their land is kept in good agricultural and environmental condition. This is called cross compliance and there are regular on-farm monitoring checks made.

Although this information isn’t shown on food packaging; across the 18 EU Member States who apply the BPS scheme, over 4 million farmers claim basic income support and this is the main way that the EU supports farmers to secure viable food production without distorting their production decisions while helping to protect the environment [2]. If they wish to go further, farmers can also choose to sign up to for agri-environment measures; these schemes compensate farmers for the additional costs of environmentally-friendly farming techniques that go beyond the legal requirements.

Organic production

The term “organic” refers to an overall system of both farm management and food production that aims at sustainable agriculture to produce high-quality food products using processes that do not harm the environment, humans, plants or animals [3]. A food can be labelled as organic if at least 95% of its ingredients are organic. The use of ionising radiation on food or feed or genetically modified organisms is not allowed.

In the EU, the term “bio/biological” prevails in Latin and Germanic languages, while English-speaking countries mostly use the term “organic”. Organic food production and labelling across the EU is regulated (Regulation No. 834/2007 and No. 889/2008) and an EU organic logo has been available since 2010 (Figure 1 below).

A rectangle logo that is filled bright green. A leaf logo is on top outlined by little white stars

Figure 1. The EU organic logo ©European Commission, 2015.

Do you recognise this logo from food packaging? The use of this logo on food products enables consumers to trust that their food has been produced within a legal and regulatory framework that ensures farmers meet specified standards for animal welfare, quality, environmental protection and sustainable production. The infographic below describes exactly what this logo guarantees:

See PDF Figure 2. Infographic on the organic logo of the EU for alt text under 'see also' section

Figure 2. Supporting information about organic farming can be found on the European Commission website

In the EU in recent years the area of land under organic cultivation has steadily increased in response to consumer demand (see Figure 3).

Image of a graph. See PDF Figure 3. Area of agricultural land under organic cultivation in the EU. in 'See also' section for alt text

Figure 3. Area of agricultural land under organic cultivation in the EU. European Commission (2016)

Not all of our food is produced within the EU. Global organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) provide consumer focussed information about global farming methods on their website.

Have you already looked for information about food production methods used outside of the EU? Share your thoughts in the comment section below about the direct way that consumer choice can influence the food production system.


For the full list of references please see under ‘Downloads’ and further reading is provided under ‘See also’ - both found at the bottom of this Step.

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This article is from the free online course:

Trust in Our Food: Understanding Food Supply Systems

EIT Food