Mad Cow's Silver Lining Is Farm Reform

If the European Union's bureaucrats in Brussels ever needed evidence that the time is ripe for reforming its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), they need look no further than the hundreds of thousands of livestock being slaughtered across Europe, the ruined livelihoods of the farmers who have raised the animals, or the escalating mistrust among European consumers who have had to face one health scare after another in recent years.

The double blow of disease--first mad cow and now foot and mouth--has brought European agriculture to its knees. European Agricultural Commissioner Franz Fischler recently gave the world the first indication that Brussels may finally be ready to reform its 40-year-old policy of subsidies, market intervention, and protectionism. Fischler recently conceded that the central aims of CAP are "not a good basis for future-oriented agriculture policy." British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has seen Britain's agricultural sector forced into near economic isolation, says the farming crisis can offer the EU an "opportunity to change direction."

But within the EU, lines are being drawn between the reformers and those who wish to preserve the status quo. And nowhere are the divisions more evident than in the positions of the EU's two largest members, Germany and France. The former is the biggest contributor to CAP and is increasingly seeking reform, while the latter is its main beneficiary. The EU must move quickly to create a more sustainable agricultural policy if it hopes to preserve its farms.

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