EU must push for worldwide coordination of 'food policies'

As the world's largest agri-food market, the EU has ability to take a 'proactive' approach in coordination of global food policies, writes Paolo De Castro.

By Paolo De Castro

14 Apr 2014

Food security has gained a renewed centrality in the political debate since the peak in food prices in 2008. From 2009 to 2012, the issue was at the top of the G8 and G20 agenda. This was an implicit recognition that a more sophisticated policy coordination at global level is needed to meet the new challenges in the food supply scenario, which is upside-down in comparison with what prevailed in the 20th century.

As a member of the European parliament, I am pleased to stress that our chamber has always been in the front row on food security related issues. Among the many contributions, the latest is the decisive support to the constitution of the EU committee for Expo 2015 (to be held in Milan and dedicated to food and energy) in order to steer the policy debate on the research and innovation options to meet the global challenge of food security.

"I believe that the European parliament must continue to put pressure on EU institutions in order to increase the coordination of food policies across the world"

There is still much work to do, nonetheless. The food security challenge differs from the past. It has become a global issue and, as such, requires global responses. Food supply and consumption have become a matter of geopolitics.

Demographic trends at global level, prosperity and the consequent change in consumption patterns in emerging economies have expanded the demand for food, fibre and fuels from agriculture, intensifying the pressure on environmental systems. This increases the uncertainty about food supply in a multi-polar world, as the international political system is much more complicated and 'risky' than in the past.

For example, the 2010 spike in the food prices at global level was one of the triggers in north African unrest, known as the Arab spring, causing a growth in the number of the migrants pushing at the Mediterranean EU frontier. Other geopolitical impacts of the new scenario can be found in the rising of Brazil as a global 'agricultural' power, and the aggressive foreign investment policies of countries like China, India and the Gulf cooperation council (GCC) states to secure an adequate level of food supply.

The G8 and G20 partially addressed this big picture, focusing on the financial transactions in agriculture. However, the structural factors that drive the increasing trend in global food prices and fostering of uncertainty remain.

Unfortunately, the momentum that pushed the G20 leaders to adopt the declaration of Cannes in 2011 - the biggest effort in terms of global response to the new food security issues - has been fading for years, increasingly losing consistency in a pronounced fragmentation of decision making.

The challenges posed by the new scenario must be played out at two levels: research and innovation transfer and a greater coordination of food policies at global level. Concerning the first element, the support of the European parliament to the EU innovation partnership for agriculture, with more than €4bn euros for innovation in 2014-2020, is a remarkable step establishing an original bottom-up and open access approach for agricultural innovation.

Concerning the political level, I believe that the European parliament must continue to put pressure on EU institutions in order to increase the coordination of food policies across the world. As the world's main 'agri-food' importer and exporter, the EU can aim for a more proactive approach in this perspective.

Climate change is acknowledged to be a global challenge, and decisions - even though agonisingly slow – are taken at the same level. This is currently not the case for food security and we must enhance efforts to raise awareness of this challenge at inter-institutional level.

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