Agricultural subsidies have been heavily criticized for years and recently have been identified by the World Trade Organization as needing reform.
Agriculture in the European Union (EU) is driven largely by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a price support mechanism that consumes nearly half of the budget of the EU. Most of the 40 billion euro annual cost comprises direct payments to farmers, maintaining EU prices above those of the global market by taxing imports, subsidising exports and paying for food storage when no market is available. Farmers also find the current CAP system to be flawed. As an example, the system of headage payments (a payment for each sheep) resulted in overstocking followed by price collapses, poorer quality animals and environmental degradation. The high stock density could have also favoured the spread of foot and mouth disease.
Many farmers find themselves driven into a position where they make minimal income (average £8,500 in the UK), are undertaking practices that they find distasteful and no longer command widespread respect from society. The public distrust of agriculture, especially following BSE, has led to cynicism over stated benefits of new developments, as seen most dramatically in the response to GM crops.