Brussels, 5th of July - The European Commission has adopted today its proposal to create a monitoring framework for the protection of soil. While soil health has a key role in biodiversity protection, climate mitigation and food production (95% of which is dependent on soils), around 70% of EU soil ecosystems are in an unhealthy situation. A similar proposal in 2006 was rejected by the Member States, postponing needed measures.
This justifies the urgency of this proposal that is, however, not ambitious. While the proposal aims “to achieve healthy soils by 2050”, this cannot be achieve solely by implementing a monitoring system. It can only be achieved by adopting a determined Soil Health Law – as proposed in the EU Soil Strategy for 2030 – with binding targets for 2050, with mandatory milestones for 2030 and 2040, and by addressing the pollution caused by excessive livestock production.
Factory farming contributes to soil degradation in multiple ways. While well-managed grazing can play a role in carbon sequestration and the sustainable use of manure can contribute to soil fertility, more frequently, mismanagement and excessive manure cause nutrient pollution. In fact, 80% of EU soil acidification caused by agriculture is due to livestock farming. This negative effect is increased by the systematic reliance on feed, which is dependent on the use of artificial fertilizers.
Therefore, a reduction in the number of farmed animals is necessary to ensure synergies between animals and the ecosystems they inhabit. This can help prevent imbalances like overgrazing, the accumulation of excessive manure in the soil, and the overreliance on antibiotics that harm soil health and compel farmers to resort to fertilizers. Tackling these issues would contribute to addressing the current threats to biodiversity, climate, public health, and the environment.
For the EU legislation to effectively safeguard soils, it needs to incorporate provisions that enable and support the transition to extensive farming systems. Firstly, it should establish appropriate livestock unit figures for area-based farming, serving as a prerequisite for the sustainable use of soil. Secondly, implementing a robust and routine monitoring system for these soils becomes a crucial tool to ensure compliance with the legislation. Lastly, mandatory inspections of grasslands should be implemented to prevent soil oversaturation and preserve soil quality.
In addition, EU funding– including from the CAP – should be redirected to promote agricultural practices that are aligned with agroecological principles, while cutting all funding for polluting activities.
Sophie Aylmer, FOUR PAWS Head of Farm Animals & Nutrition Policy, stated, “Whilst long overdue, the current proposal for the Soil Law is significantly insufficient. In the same way that industrial animal farming is the major source of water pollution, it lies at the heart of soil deterioration. It is crucial to confront and rectify the problem of excessive livestock in order to protect and restore our soils.
We now call on policymakers at the European Parliament and the Council to give this proposal the ambition it needs by including binding targets and provisions that tackle unsustainable farming methods. Specifically, this would involve enabling a reduction of the excessive livestock population in the EU and guarantee species-appropriate animal welfare standards”.
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, orangutans and elephants – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in twelve countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org