One critic said the vote on the EU agriculture reform package would bring extinction closer for many species after it failed to offer incentives for farmers to reduce their environmental impact.
BirdLife Europe said the politicians voted to make the policy “an extinction machine”, adding: “Nature has lost this battle.”
Now environmentalists are pressuring MEPs before a final vote by the full parliament tomorrow (Friday).
The votes on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), funded by nearly €400bn (£350bn), will shape farming in the block for the next seven years.
A deal by the largest groups in the European Parliament - the European People's Party (EPP), Socialists & Democrats (S&D) and Renew Europe - involved lowering environmental conditions attached to the policy. And MEPs voted against an emissions-reduction target for agriculture of 30 per cent.
Harriet Bradley, an agriculture policy expert at BirdLife Europe, said the decisions meant the world was “one step closer to extinction for many species”.
She said perhaps “one of the most shocking and spiteful” votes to environment was that “in the unlikely event that agri ministries are queuing up to fund environmental schemes, they shall be prevented [from doing so] by maximum spends on environmental measures”.
A ban on converting grasslands in biodiversity-rich nature-protected areas was lifted, so more could be turned into maize fields, she reported.
The intensification of agriculture, including pesticide use, fuels carbon dioxide emissions and pollution, a key factor in nature destruction, including the decline of farmland birds and pollinators.
Earlier this year, 3,600 scientists called for an overhaul of the CAP, warning that it was a central driver of the biodiversity and climate emergencies as it funded practices that cause significant biodiversity loss, climate change, and soil, land and water degradation.
The new CAP document deletes “the need for farmers to have a tool for more sustainable use of nutrients”, Ms Bradley said, pointing out that agriculture is the biggest source of nitrate pollution in EU waters, responsible for dead zones and toxic algae.
Ecoschemes will fund new spraying machines that could potentially cause damage if used to kill insects and weeds, she added.
“This is about how 400bn of taxpayers money is going to be spent in the make-or-break decade for #climate and #biodiversity,” she tweeted.
Greenpeace’s EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said: “MEPs have signed a death sentence for nature, climate and small farms, which will keep disappearing at an alarming rate. For over 60 years, European farm policy has been blind to farming’s impact on nature, rewarding farmers for producing more or expanding their farms.
“The EU Parliament is wilfully continuing that destruction while scientists warn that farming must change to tackle the climate crisis and protect nature.”
I just cant fathom how any MEP would rather lose their reputation on the environment, damage the EUs reputation, screw over their kids and see species go extinct, over standing up to the big ag lobbies. https://t.co/hVJInEz8zQ
— Harriet Bradley (@HarrietBirdlife) October 21, 2020
Ecologist Carola Rackete tweeted: “There are no reasons at all to spend a third of the EU budget on industrial agriculture which drives biodiversity loss on land and worsens the climate crisis.”
A report earlier this week by the EU environment agency said unsustainable farming, forestry and the sprawl of urbanisation were degrading the health of Europe's animals and natural habitats.
The report showed more than half of pollution pressure on biodiversity came from agricultural practices, stating the current CAP did not provide enough funding.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted: “No matter what the EU climate target for 2030 will be, reaching it with a business-as-usual common agricultural policy will be basically impossible. So the MEPs voting in favour of #FutureofCAP final vote tomorrow will be responsible for surrendering on our future.”
WWF accused politicians of being “in a state of complete denial about the biodiversity and climate crises”.
A European Parliament spokesman said: “There are nearly 2,000 votes on CAP reform this week to three separate reports addressing common market rules, national strategic plans and future financing.
“As with many issues, there are political forces pulling in both directions, so the end result is inevitably a compromise. But this would represent a greener CAP than we currently have as it provides a number of incentives for farmers to produce more sustainably.”
A third of the budget would be for “green” initiatives, assistance to smaller farms and capping payments to large agri-businesses, he said.
Negotiations will take place over the coming weeks to hammer out a deal between the parliament and the European Council.
The EU Council said ministers had voted for financial support for eco-friendly farming; to increase rewards for farmers more committed to greening and to help smaller farmers embrace the green transition.