Food security not a prerequisite of the Common Agricultural Policy

Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team 

The European Union is not able to self sufficiently nor sustainability feed its population of almost 500 million people. 

Despite guidance to consume “5 a day”, it is not possible for European farmers to be able to produce enough fruits and vegetables for European citizens to achieve this simple goal to keep healthy. Many of our 5 a day have to be imported. Food miles, pesticides, intensive farming and artificial ripening conditions, all contradict Europe’s Green Deal commitments, its climate change pledges and are against the best interests of consumers. 

Many European citizens are unaware from where their food originates, or even how it reached the supermarket shelves. Whilst “farm to fork” is a concept of the European institutions, consumers assume, incorrectly, that their right to food is guaranteed because they are citizens of developed nations. This is not so, food security remains an EU challenge and one which needs urgently addressing in order to achieve more sustainable food systems. 

Efficient, comprehensive and long term, viable food chains, in the EU and elsewhere, must be central to European food supply. Currently, there is no immediate urgency to address food security but a review of food supply in the UK following Brexit and the effects of the pandemic on distribution highlight that a blockage to food supply could occur at any point in time. The European Union must prepare itself as there is no vaccine against hunger!

Launched in 1962, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was developed to form a partnership between agriculture and society, and between European policy makers and farmers. The CAP is a common policy for all EU countries, managed and funded at EU level from the resources of the EU budget. The objective of the CAP is to support farmers and improve agricultural productivity, ensuring a stable supply of affordable food; safeguard EU farmers to make a reasonable living; help tackle climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources; maintain rural areas and landscapes across the EU; and to keep the rural economy alive by promoting jobs in farming, agri-foods industries and associated sectors.

Within the CAP are Common Market Organisations (CMOs) designed to manage the production and trade of most of the EU’s agricultural sector. Their purpose is to provide a safety net to agricultural markets through the use of market-support tools, exceptional measures and aid schemes for certain sectors, mainly fruit and vegetables, and wine. The CMOs also encourage producer cooperation through producer organisations and set specific rules on competition, whilst establishing marketing standards for certain products. More recently there have been calls for the CMOs to assess regulation of the markets, manage agricultural crises, and protect European food sovereignty. 

European agricultural markets remain structurally unstable creating challenges for everyone across the food chain including farmers, retailers and consumers. When agricultural markets are not efficient, the environment also suffers. Additionally, many vulnerabilities and inequalities exist within European food systems. Monitoring and better management of European food stocks, and the safeguarding of the European market from excessively destabilising imports, financial speculations and market manipulations, or products which do not comply with EU safety standards, are paramount concerns which must form part of any new food security reviews to deliver more equitable and fairer supply chains.

Consumers, environmentalists and policy makers are increasingly concerned that too many imported products contain pesticide residues that are banned in the European Union – A situation which endangers human health, animal welfare, damages the environment and disadvantages European farmers. Whilst the European Green Deal promises a 50% reduction in pesticides by 2030, the fear is that this will not include imported products and will be ignored in European trade deals. 

Ensuring EU citizens their guaranteed right of access to food will require radical reforms in the sector. Decent work conditions, the promotion of fair trade and the banning of unfair trading practices are additional concerns which need addressing within the CAP and by the CMOs. Finding the right balance will require the engagement of multiple stakeholders including farmers, consumers, business, retailers, academia and research institutions, trade unions,  and NGOs. 

With the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit in September, it is hoped that the European Union will not only put forward solutions and comprehensive new actions to transform the way in which Europe will work to ensure food security, but that it will propose recommendations for other countries to partner with the EU on sustainability, food consumption and food waste processes to better protect people and planet in line with all the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

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