Are beans and peas for the birds?

A controversial battle is brewing in England between wildlife campaigners, farmers and the European Union (EU) government. The debate: assist nature, or plant more crops?

Originally, grant funds from the EU were aimed towards supporting wild plants and animals in the English countryside. Now, the funds are being handed to farmers to grow beans and peas.

Initial negotiations included that farmers would use land to help support wild plants and animals. However, the legislation has since been watered down. Now, farmers can uphold their end of the bargain by planting crops that improve the soil. This is considered helping wildlife.

And it’s leaving a lot of wildlife supporters frustrated.

“The government has squandered this opportunity and is handing out £11 billion to the farming industry in England and expecting very, very little in return,” said Mike Harper of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in England.  

The EU disagrees. Allowing farmers to grow beans in particular, a source said, increases the amount of protein in Europe’s crops. This rise would, in turn, reduce imports of soya. The intention is to give farmers more flexibility in the legislation so that they can focus on growing food. Not only is the environment supported with the increased protein, but the movement will also “give value to taxpayers and safeguard the countryside.”

These benefits shouldn’t be considered enough, say wildlife campaigners.

“Nitrogen-fixing crops improve the soil, but don’t help wildlife at all,” said Stephen Trotter of The Wildlife Trusts. “This is bizarre. It gets more and more outrageous every minute I think about it. It seems that farmers just want public funds with no strings attached.”

Households in England pay roughly £400 (approximately $680 U.S.) per year towards the subsidies.

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