The main aim of EU agricultural policy should be to help farmers and to protect the environment, according to the results of a Europe-wide consultation.

Respondents to the three-month consultation – which received more than 320,000 submissions and was launched by EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan – included farmers, EU citizens and businesses.

“The response to the public consultation shows the level of interest that there is in the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy], which continues to support a dynamic agricultural sector, ensures safe and high-quality food for 508 million citizens and provides for significant investment in rural areas,” Hogan said.

Some 88% of respondents recognised that farmer incomes were lower than the EU average, with the majority also accepting that farmers received only a small amount of the final consumer price for food. As such, 66% said direct income support was the best way to ensure a fairer standard of living for farmers.

But this was not the respondents’ only reason for supporting the CAP. They also said it should be used to encourage farmers to play their part in tackling climate change, protecting the environment and reducing soil degradation.

When the results were broken down between farmers and citizens, the study found that both were in equal agreement that the future CAP should be simpler and less bureaucratic to overcome the challenges faced by the agri-sector.

Some 90% also agreed there was real added-value by having agricultural policy managed at EU-level. This was because it ensures harmonisation across the single market and enables the agri-sector to respond more effectively to shared challenges, such as environmental protection and climate change.

Other reasons were to maintain economic, social and territorial cohesion across the bloc, and because of the need for a common framework to share best practices, with the findings set to inform the EU Commission’s ongoing reflection on the future of farming.

The results come after the President of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, John Comer, called for the government to defend the current level of CAP payments to Irish farmers amid rumours that subsidies would be cut under Brexit.