Written by Antonio Albaladejo Román.
‘Food security’ is widely understood to mean ‘when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’. This definition was agreed at the World Food Summit, held in Rome in 1996.
A quarter of a century later, accessing available, nutritious and affordable food remains a challenge for nearly a third of the world’s population, with between 702 and 828 million people facing hunger in 2021. Despite the goal of ending world hunger within the decade, set in the UN 2030 Agenda, up to 670 million people could struggle with malnutrition in 2030.
In Europe, the common agricultural policy (CAP) guarantees food availability. For 60 years now, the CAP has supported our farmers and transformed the EU into an agricultural powerhouse. Food affordability, however, has become a growing source of concern for European citizens, owing to rising prices resulting from extreme weather episodes, the COVID-19 pandemic, and Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The successive crises affecting Europe over the past two years have had a cumulative effect on food prices, driving them up. The post-pandemic economic recovery of 2021 led to a sudden surge in global demand, which the supply side was unable to meet. Skyrocketing energy prices was one result, in the second half of 2021. Already affected by higher electricity costs and continuing logistical bottlenecks, the European agricultural industry then faced two additional shocks in 2022, which exacerbated food inflation. The unprovoked war on Ukraine, one of the world’s most important agricultural producers, and Russia’s weaponisation of its own grain, energy, and fertiliser exports, caused severe disruption to global supply chains, and compromised the food security of millions of people in the developing world. At a time when European agricultural producers were being hit by higher feed, electricity and fertiliser costs, the unusually hot and dry summer experienced in parts of Europe during 2022 led to a significant reduction in crop and pasture production, adding further pressure to inflationary tendencies. As a result, food inflation reached 13.8 % in the euro area in December 2022, up from 3.2 % in December 2021, and surpassed energy as the main contributor to inflation.
Faced with this challenge, the EU has reacted decisively against the threats to global food security, and the drivers of food inflation. In March 2022, EU leaders committed to ‘improve our food security by reducing our dependencies on key imported agricultural products and inputs, in particular by increasing the EU production of plant-based proteins’. Following this decision, the European Commission enacted exceptional measures to support the agricultural sector amid the crisis, and encouraged Member States to make use of European and national mechanisms to cushion the effects of food inflation on citizens, such as VAT reductions for staple products.
The European Parliament has consistently called for the strengthening of the bloc’s agricultural resilience and mitigating the impact of inflation on European households. During the January I 2023 plenary session in Strasbourg, Members of the European Parliament questioned the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, on the measures taken to combat food inflation. On 31 January, the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) will debate a draft report on ‘Ensuring food security and long-term resilience of the EU agriculture’. Members of the AGRI committee will debate a wide range of possible measures, from an EU protein strategy to overcome the vegetal protein deficit, to fostering innovative technologies in agriculture, such as new cultivation methods and AI-driven crop management.
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