Fund for most deprived a 'great victory' for parliament

Marije Cornelissen believes that Europe's improved fund for the most deprived (FEAD) can make a huge difference, but it's up to member states to use it.

By Marije Cornelissen

04 Mar 2014

The negotiations on the (FEAD) were a great victory for the European parliament. Not only was a billion added at the last moment, but the council also agreed to add the possibility for food banks and other aid organisations to get more food donations, which could drastically increase the amount of food for Europe’s poorest.

FEAD is a relatively small fund, with €3.5bn over seven years. But it is one of the most important funds for the lives of people in Europe. The fund is a follow-up of a previous one that has existed continuously from 1986 onwards. In the very cold winter of that year, many homeless people froze or starved to death, prompting a call on the European commission to do something for the poor. In those days, the problem of agricultural surpluses was increasing. The milk puddle and butter mountain getting bigger, the grain sheds near to bursting. So then commissioner for agriculture, the Dutch Christian-Democrat Frans Andriessen, did the logical thing. He created a fund to donate the surpluses to the poorest of the poor in Europe.

"The main aim of FEAD is to simply buy food and give that to the most deprived"

In the 25 years that followed, more and more people became dependent on food from the EU. By 2012, estimates ran from five to 18 million people who get their food from the fund. Meanwhile, though the surpluses had dwindled. Because of much needed common agricultural policy reforms, overproduction was no longer rewarded and the puddles and mountains reduced to nearly nothing. Time for a new fund for the most deprived, under social instead of agricultural policy.

The main victory for the parliament in negotiating the new fund was that a strand was added for projects to get more food donations and prevent food waste. I visited 15 foodbanks throughout Europe over the past years. All of them have great ideas about how they could get more food from farmers, manufacturers and retailers. But few of them have the means to carry out these ideas. With something as simple as a refrigerator truck, a foodbank could collect far more fresh vegetables from supermarkets. Other foodbanks have plans to use an empty plot for a vegetable garden where clients can work, socially activating them while increasing the amount of fresh food at the same time. With better corporate connections, manufacturers could be made to donate food or to give soup cans with wrong labels or pizza’s with one piece of salami too few to the food bank instead of throwing them away. The beauty of that is that it will decrease food waste while giving food banks an independent source of food, which will continue whatever politicians decide in the future.

The main aim of FEAD is to simply buy food and give that to the most deprived. Undoubtedly, most of the fund will be used in that way. However, I do hope that member states will take up this new possibility for increasing food donations and fighting food waste. There are hundreds of wonderfully innovative ideas among foodbanks. All they need to do is listen carefully, learn from experiences across Europe and include these projects in the operational programme. Parliament has created the possibility, now it is up to member states and their foodbanks to use it.