办事指南

Crops without profit

点击量:   时间:2019-03-07 08:07:04

By Fred Pearce FARMING costs Britain more than £2.3 billion each year, according to the most detailed study yet of the industry’s wider balance sheet. This bill, which includes the cost of cleaning up pollution, repairing habitats and coping with sickness caused by farming, almost equals the industry’s income. The study puts figures on the external costs of farming—the costs that farmers themselves don’t have to pay for. It comes up with a cost of £208 per hectare, which is double the amount suggested by previous, less detailed, studies of the costs in Germany and the US. But the survey’s chief author, Jules Pretty of the Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex, still describes this figure as “very conservative”. “Agriculture does more than just produce food—it has a profound impact on many other aspects of local, national and global economies and ecosystems, and these impacts can be positive or negative,” says Pretty. Farming can erode soils, reduce biodiversity and poison rivers, he says, as well as adding to global warming. Environmental economists say the findings suggest the need for a radical rethink of Europe’s farming policy. The figures in the study have been compiled from many different sources. In 1996, water companies spent £214 million removing pesticides, nitrates and farm pathogens from drinking water. The bill for food poisoning includes an allowance for the victims’ lost wages as well as the cost of their hospital treatment. The annual tab of £25 million for nature conservation is the figure the government agency English Nature has calculated as the cost of restoring endangered species and wildlife habitats damaged by agriculture. The bill of £1.1 billion for air pollution and greenhouse emissions includes, for example, the cost of flood protection as a result of rising sea levels. “We have been explicitly conservative,” says Pretty. He says that lack of reliable data forced him to leave out some costs, such as the health impact on farmers of using pesticides. He has also ignored the damage farmers do to their own land, and more intangible costs such as the value of spoilt landscapes. “The study has only estimated externalities that give rise to actual financial costs,” says Pretty. All the costs have to be paid for sooner or later, either through increased prices or higher taxes. The findings are to be published in the journal Agricultural Systems next year. Pretty sees the figures as a strong argument for redirecting agricultural subsidies, which currently run at £3 billion a year. He says the lion’s share of the subsidy should go to farms that do not damage the environment, while dirty farms should lose their subsidy. “Farming had better clean up quickly if it wants that money,” he says. “This is one of the most important areas of agricultural research not dealt with by government,” says Jim Dixon, an economist with English Nature’s farming unit. “The government looks at farm incomes and subsidies,