Organic farming grows

The old European Union of 15 has more environmentally friendly farming following the measures of the Common Agricultural Policy. But greater efforts are still needed in areas such as soil erosion, according to an EU evaluation of the environmental consequences of farming activities that was published in late December. There has been significant improvement, or at least stabilization, in the use of water and in the emissions of greenhouse gases. However, as the report notes, farming has had a deleterious effect on bird diversity, with birds diminishing in number or even disappearing in farmed areas. Intensive farming aimed at maximizing output has caused serious environmental problems in the EU. It was deemed necessary to institute measures to protect the environment, including subsidies for organic farming and stock raising which reduce the use of agricultural chemicals, or installing water-saving systems for irrigation. In order to judge the effectiveness of the measures, the EU has ordered a study to measure certain indicators. The report, which examines changes from 1990 to 2002 in the old 15 EU member states, shows that the total area of farmland in the EU decreased by 2.5 percent, chiefly in grazing land and areas that produce animal fodder. There was also a decrease in the amount of agricultural chemicals used, which it attributed to better farm management. And there has been a significant increase in the areas farmed organically, without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. While in 1998 the area devoted to organically grown crops comprised a mere 1.8 percent of the total farmland in the EU, by 2002 that figure had risen to 3.7 percent. Though the percentage of irrigated farmland rose 12 percent overall in the EU, with the greatest increase being 30 percent in the Mediterranean area, and the level of water use in farming remains high, it has not actually increased, thanks to new irrigation methods. The grave problem of soil erosion, particularly in northern and western areas of Spain, southern Greece and central Italy, shows no signs of recovery. There has been a small decrease in the emission of greenhouse gases caused by crop and stock farming. In 1990, farming contributed to 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (mainly methane and carbon dioxide from stock farm waste and fertilizers), but by 2002 that figure had fallen to 9 percent, primarily due to a reduction in the number of animals at stock farms. In many parts of the EU where intensive farming is practiced, there has been a notable reduction in bird diversity, even in places rich in birdlife, and there has been a dramatic diminution of bird populations.

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