Following the publication last November of the European Commission's Communication on the Future of Food & Farming, the latest EU-wide Eurobarometer survey of public opinion about the common agricultural policy show that just over 60% of respondents believe that the common agricultural policy (CAP) benefits all citizens and not just farmers.
The survey of over 28,000 EU citizens in 28 member states was carried out in early December 2017 and among the main findings, published today, is the acknowledgement that a clear majority of citizens (55%) see "providing safe, healthy and good quality food" as one of the main responsibilities of farmers. This is considered the single most important role played by farmers in every EU country. When asked about the priorities for the CAP, 62% of respondents (+6% since 2015) said that "providing safe, healthy and good quality food" should be the top priority for the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP).
Reflecting the increasing emphasis on CAP's contribution to the environment and climate challenge, 50% of citizens said that "protecting the environment and tacking climate change" should be the main objective of the CAP, which is a six-point increase since the last similar survey in 2015. An increase in the environment and climate ambition will be a key feature of the Commission's legislative proposals for the next CAP.
Awareness of the support provided through the CAP
Awareness of the CAP remains high, with more than two-thirds (67%) of respondents having heard of the support that the EU gives farmers through the CAP. There has been little change in this figure over the past two surveys, going back to 2013. At least half of the respondents in all but one country had heard of the support that the EU gives farmers through the CAP.
In terms of the support provided, 45% of respondents thought that the level of financial support given to farmers was "about right", which is up 4% on the 2015 figure and is four times the number that believe that the level of support is "too high" and significantly above the number that believes it is "too low". Perhaps not surprisingly, a large number of respondents (44%) also said they would like to see an increase in EU financial support for farmers over the next 10 years.
In terms of performance, almost three-quarters of Europeans think that the CAP is fulfilling its role in securing a stable supply of food in the EU, thus supporting the principle of food security as a key objective. Some 64% believe that the CAP is fulfilling its role in providing safe, healthy food of high quality and 62% think that it is ensuring a sustainable way to produce food.
Perceived importance of CAP priorities
Large majorities of those surveyed think that each of three priorities - strengthening the farmers' role in the food chain, developing research and innovation and encouraging young people to enter the agricultural sector – are important.
Some 88% of respondents think that strengthening the farmers' role in the food chain is important. Reflecting this concern, the Commission is committed to bring forward legislative proposals later this year. When broken down at the national level, the survey shows that in almost half the EU there is clear support for European action to ensure a fair standard of living for farmers.
Eighty-four per cent think that developing research and innovation to support the agri-food sector is important, supporting the contention in the Commission's Communication that "support for knowledge, innovation and technology will be crucial to future-proofing the CAP." The same percentage of respondents think that encouraging young people to enter the agricultural sector is important, which is also supported in the Communication which says that "generational renewal should become a priority in a new policy framework."
A policy for all the people of Europe
With just over 60% of respondents indicating that the common agricultural policy benefits all citizens, more than nine in ten (92%) think that agriculture and rural areas are important for the future. In terms of protecting the environment and tackling a climate challenge, at least half of all respondents in the vast majority (24 of 28) member states agree that the CAP is fulfilling its role and in just over half (16) of the countries, at least half of all respondents agree that the CAP is fulfilling its role in creating jobs and growth in rural areas.
However, opinions are divided when it comes to social, health and cultural services and social inclusion. Views are more inclined to be negative when considering the environmental and landscape. These figures illustrate the need for the future CAP to respond to the demands of citizens.
EU standards widely recognised
The importance of quality in the EU food and farming sector comes to fore again when citizens were questioned about issues of trade. With environmental, animal and plant safety and quality standards all featuring strongly among the priorities for citizens, farmers and the CAP itself, most respondents also believe that these same standards should apply in broad measure to imported food as well. Some 87% of respondents said that imports of any origin should only be allowed to enter the EU if they comply with EU standards, a sentiment shared by a majority of citizens in 18 of the 28 EU countries.
The majority of citizens also believe that protecting the European market from sub-standard products is also sufficient justification for trade barriers in the agricultural sector. However, if trade barriers are put in place, most respondents also consider that they should not apply to developing countries and that the EU should continue to support farmers and food producers in those countries through its trade policy.
Support for EU trade policy in general is also high. A majority of respondents said they considered that trade agreements between the EU and other countries had been good for agriculture in the EU and good for them as consumers.
Quality a strong driver of choice
Given the importance most citizens give to the quality of the food produced in Europe, it is not surprising that it is also a key factor for them when deciding what to buy. Over three quarters of respondents said that local tradition and know-how, knowledge of the specific geographical area and a specific quality label were important in helping them decide what food products to buy, with local tradition in particular a major influence in almost all EU countries. As for the labels themselves, more than 60 per cent of respondents in every member state said that they played an important role in deciding what products to buy.
Consumer awareness of the labels themselves remains mixed, however, with the most widely known label coming not from the EU but from the wider Fairtrade sector. The organic logo is the most widely recognised EU label at 27% (+4% since 2015) while awareness of the three geographical indication labels is under 20% in each case (18% for Protected Denomination of Origin and Protected Geographical Indication and 15% for Traditional Speciality Guaranteed).