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Soybean production is eating up land abroad (Photo: CC0)

Report reveals environmental and social cost of EU’s land footprint


The European Union uses far more than its fair share of global agricultural land, with high environmental and social impacts in other world regions. According to a new report published on 27 July by Friends of the Earth Europe, the EU requires almost 270 million hectares of agricultural land to sustain its unsustainable food production and agricultural practices. Almost 40% of this land is outside Europe, an area the size of Italy and France combined. The report estimates that average EU per capita cropland consumption is 1.5 times higher than the global average, highlighting an inequitable distribution of global land resources and an overstepping of planetary boundaries. Every EU citizien on averages uses 3100 square metres of arable land although there are only 2000m2 per person available if the total global surface area of arable land of around 1.4 billion hectares is divided by the number of people on the planet. “Overconsumption is eating up ever more land, often with disastrous consequences. It is unjust, irresponsible and unsustainable that we continue to use more than our fair share of global land and are shifting more than one-third of the impacts related to land consumption to ecosystems and communities outside of the EU,” said Meadhbh Bolger, resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. The EU’s demand for land negatively affects the environment mainly through expanding agriculture into areas of nature or previously unfarmed land. This pressurises global ecosystems, drives forest conversions into plantations, lessens forests’ carbon storage capacity, and causes land degradation and biodiversity loss, the report warns. But the EU’s huge demand for land abroad is also provoking land grabs and the unequal appropriation of resources, depriving local communities of their access to land and the right to define their own food system. Animal products like meat and dairy account for over 70% of the overall land footprint of 196 million hectares of land, with the largest portions for meat (30% of the total) and dairy (25% of the total, mostly cheese). The second biggest grouping is vegetable oils, followed by other plant-based products; wheat; fruit, vegetables and spices; alcohol; and coffee, tea and cacao. According to Stanka Becheva, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, we need a radical overhaul in how and where we use land to reduce this inequitable footprint: “Industrialised agriculture and global food chains are swallowing up land across the globe, damaging the environment and rural communities. We rapidly need a just transition to a greener way of farming that works for all people and the planet.” In order to reduce the EU’s unsustainable land footprint, the authors of the report recommend the development of policies and incentives that encourage a reduction in the consumption of land intensive products or products that embody relatively high environmental impacts, in particular animal products. (ab)