19.2.2011   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 54/20


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Security of supply in agriculture and the food sector in the EU’

(own-initiative opinion)

(2011/C 54/04)

Rapporteur: Armands KRAUZE

On 18 February 2010, the European Economic and Social Committee, acting under Article 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw up an own-initiative opinion on

Security of supply in agriculture and the food sector in the EU

(own-initiative opinion).

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 17 November 2010.

At its 467th plenary session, held on 8 and 9 December 2010 (meeting of 9 December), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 133 votes to 3 with 7 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1   Ensuring the availability of food supplies should remain one of the fundamental objectives of EU agricultural policy. Given the challenges and uncertainties associated with global food security, the post-2013 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should continue to ensure security of supply in agriculture and the food sector.

1.2   Sustainable agricultural production and smoothly functioning agricultural markets create the basis for security of food supply in the EU. The future CAP needs strong market management mechanisms to ensure the functioning of agricultural markets and price stability. The rules for agricultural trade should guarantee the security of supply in agriculture in all countries and in all circumstances.

1.3   To be able to respond to all future challenges and to ensure security of supply in agriculture and the food sector in all Member States, the EU needs a strong CAP. The CAP should continue to be one of the key policies in the EU in the future. Future funding for the CAP must be adequate.

1.4   The key to food security the world over is sustainable local food production. In the EU diversified agricultural production should be maintained and promoted across the EU. Special attention should be given to remote regions and areas with specific handicaps.

1.5   The EU must devote more effort to systematic planning for security of supply to ensure the viability of agricultural production and the entire food sector, even in crisis and emergency situations. Practical actions (stocks, agricultural infrastructure, training etc.) in this field should however remain the responsibility of Member States. New EU legislation in the field of security of supply in agriculture and the food sector is not necessary at the moment.

1.6   Member States can use the EU's rural development policy as a tool for promoting actions to support and improve security of supply in agriculture and the food sector. The Member States should take advantage of this possibility in their rural development programmes.

1.7   The agricultural sector could play a significant role in increasing secure and sustainable energy supply in the EU and reducing EU dependency on imported fossil fuels. At the agricultural holding level, own-energy production can make an important contribution to security of supply. To boost the use of bioenergy on agricultural holdings, bioenergy technologies should be further developed. Production of bioenergy should be sustainable and more emphasis should be given to making better use of by-products from agriculture and the food sector to reduce pollution and CO2 emissions.

2.   Introduction

2.1   Supply security in agriculture and the food sector means ensuring that food is available and that populations have economic access to it, and eliminating hunger. In many farming sectors across the EU there are sufficient production levels to feed the EU population, and this has been achieved through the CAP. Food security as a public good that is not rewarded by the market, but provided by agriculture and the food sector for the benefit of society, is going to be an important CAP objective after 2013 (1).

2.2   Food security will be the main challenge for the global agriculture and food sectors over the coming decades. As a result of the food and economic crises, over one billion people in the world are suffering from hunger.

2.3   Food security means having enough food available to live a healthy life, as well as having food that is safe and uncontaminated. It is a complicated subject which links in with other sectors such as oil production, logistics etc. Any logistical or production problems in the main production regions due to unexpected crises can affect food availability for millions of people, especially for those living in urban areas. The key to global food security is sustainable local food production (2).

3.   The challenges of global food production

3.1   According to a forecast made by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the global population will reach almost 9,5 billion by 2050; to feed these people, global food production will have to double compared with the current levels. The population in cities in the developing world will grow especially rapidly. There will be heavy expectations on farmers and increased pressure to carry out more intensive farming. Agricultural productivity will have to increase in order to feed the world’s growing population. The possibility of expanding land use is limited due to non-agricultural demands on land and the lack of available suitable farmland.

3.2   Investment in agriculture will have to increase everywhere, but especially in developing countries, which have substantial potential to expand production. Rural infrastructure, access to modern input, sustainable soil management and access to water in particular, as well as education systems and the functioning of agricultural markets, must also be improved in developing countries. In the longer term, however, the main issue for food security will be food availability and access to food. The most effective means of ensuring food security will be general development and increasing income levels in the poorest countries. Agriculture plays a particularly important role in ensuring food security, but it is difficult to guarantee food security solely through agriculture (3).

3.3   In its final declaration, the 2009 FAO Food Summit recommends that food production be the responsibility of individual countries.

3.4   It is generally better understood now, owing to the food and economic crises and the changing global situation, that all countries and regions, including the less favoured ones, must have the right and even an obligation to produce their own food. It must be possible to produce more food in a more sustainable way.

3.5   Another key challenge for global food supply, in addition to population growth, is climate change and the associated constraints on natural resources. Climate change may have a substantial impact on food production, especially in developing countries, some of which are also least able to adapt to climate change. Agriculture must seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but at the same time it can also provide part of the solution to the emissions problem through soil carbon sequestration. More efficient agricultural production must be achieved with fewer emissions. Agriculture must contribute to improving air and water quality, preserving natural diversity and preventing erosion. Ensuring that sufficient agricultural land and fresh water are available are also critical challenges for global food security.

3.6   Innovation in agriculture has a key role to play in meeting challenges relating to food security and climate change. The main innovations in these areas often relate to plant and animal breeding, irrigation techniques, flood control, resistance to the heat and cold, diversification of traditional farming methods, etc. One solution to future problems may also be to improve the efficiency of plant breeding methods, which has the potential to increase agricultural productivity substantially.

4.   Security of supply concept

4.1   Food security is a key strategic issue for all the world’s peoples. Access to food is one aspect of a broader security concept. Problems in accessing food very soon result in increased social instability and unrest. Ensuring access to food, even in crisis and emergency situations, is the responsibility of society.

4.2   Food security in a modern networked economy is dependent on many issues. Food security requires stable energy supplies (oil and electricity), IT, efficient logistics, good hygiene and a functioning rapid alert system to protect society from harmful food. Member States must ensure the protection of critical infrastructure in agriculture and the food sector and concrete action on the ground.

4.3   Societies must make provision for emergency food supply situations. This is referred to as ‘security of supply’. It is generally understood to mean ensuring flows of materials (e.g. emergency stockpiling), but security of supply is understood more broadly to mean the ability to maintain those basic economic activities of a society that are essential to the living conditions of the population, and to the functioning and security of society. Security of supply in relation to food availability therefore means the capacity to guarantee food production and the functioning of the whole food sector, even in crisis and emergency situations.

5.   EU agricultural policy and security of supply

5.1   The European Union is currently preparing for the next revision of the CAP, i.e. agricultural policy post-2013. The Commission published a Communication on the future policy in November 2010. It will probably issue the relevant legislative proposals in the latter part of 2011, and the decision of the Council and the European Parliament can be expected in 2012. In the EU, sufficient food production will continue to be achieved through the CAP.

5.2   The objectives of EU agricultural policy, as set out in the Treaty establishing the European Community and which were incorporated unchanged into the Lisbon Treaty ratified last year, are to:

increase agricultural productivity;

ensure a fair standard of living for farmers;

stabilise markets;

ensure availability of food supplies;

ensure reasonable prices of food for consumers.

5.3   It is clear that global changes and the new challenges that these present will set other objectives for EU agricultural policy, but the primary objectives mentioned above continue to be necessary and relevant. Over the years, various criticisms have been levelled at the EU's agricultural policy, as well as in the trade negotiations. In fact, the CAP has been able to meet the objectives set for it more than satisfactorily. It has guaranteed food supply throughout the Union, despite fluctuating prices and during periods of crisis. The CAP has thus maintained security of supply in the EU although the EU is not fully self-sufficient for some agricultural products and inputs. In saying this, the EU must take account of the fact that countries at the periphery of the EU often face difficulties to secure their supplies during periods of heavy price fluctuations.

5.4   In the future, global markets will operate more openly. Any future trade agreements may allow agricultural products from non-EU countries to enter the EU more easily (subject to food safety criteria), but at the same time will open up opportunities for EU agricultural products to access other markets. World demography and markets are changing agricultural production priorities and food demand across the world. The interdependence of societies and economic zones is increasing. Climate change is producing more and more extreme weather conditions. Since increased international trade alone is not enough to ensure food supply, fluctuations in the prices of agricultural products and market instability will increase in the future. The future EU agricultural policy must provide for market-stabilising mechanisms. The EU must not create instability in global food markets but must actively contribute to eradicate it.

5.5   The European Union is a major global food producer and exporter. The best way for the EU to help maintain the stability of global food markets and avert food crises is to ensure that its own agricultural market remains in equilibrium and functions effectively. The EU should also play a significant role in maintaining global food security.

5.6   European consumers want to continue eating good-quality, nutritious, safe food. Future agricultural policy has to ensure that all production is carried out in a way which protects the environment (air, soil, water), and protects the welfare of farm animals. The fact that standards are higher in the EU than in the rest of the world increases costs for European producers, and EU agricultural policy must provide for instruments, in agriculture and in business, to create a level playing-field between production in the EU and other countries. The challenge for the EU is to employ current tools (e.g. trade agreements) and develop new ones that will push other food producing countries towards the food producing standards employed by EU food producers.

5.7   Rural development policy (pillar 2 of the CAP) will continue to be of great significance for the balanced development of rural areas in the future. Rural areas are an essential part of Europe. More than 60 % of the population of the present European Union of 27 Member States live in rural areas, and rural areas account for 90 % of the Union’s total land area. Rural development policy, which takes a greater account of the different circumstances of the Member States, could become even more important in the future. The role of rural development policy as an employer in rural communities and a diversifier of business opportunities will grow. Rural development policy could be used as a EU tool in promoting the security of supply in agriculture and the food sector.

5.8   The future EU agricultural policy must continue to pay attention to security of supply issues given the challenges and uncertainties associated with global food security. Ensuring the availability of food supplies is a fundamental objective of EU agricultural policy. The EU must devote more effort to systematic planning so as to ensure the viability of agricultural production and the entire food sector, even in crisis and emergency situations. The necessary mechanisms must be available to ensure that this can happen. One key objective of EU agricultural policy must be to maintain diversified agricultural production and promote it across the EU. Maintaining the rich diversity of high quality food from different rural areas throughout the Union for EU citizens will provide the right strategic solution for the EU food policy. This will also help to guarantee security of supply.

5.9   In the long term the security of supply in agriculture and the food sector requires that agricultural production should be sustainable. Besides environmental sustainability, the economic and social dimensions are also important. More emphasis should be given to the role of agriculture in adapting to and mitigating climate change. Agriculture and food sector also have a role to play in the production of bioenergy. The targets of the EU2020 strategy should be mainstreamed in agricultural policy.

5.10   Bioenergy production has made EU agriculture a significant player in the adoption of renewable energy technologies. The sustainable farming and food sector can make a great contribution to reducing EU dependency on imported fossil fuels and ensuring secure energy supply to EU consumers. Converting agricultural waste and by-products (manure, food industry waste etc.) into bioenergy will help to reduce pollution and CO2 emissions.

Brussels, 9 December 2010.

The president of the European Economic and Social Committee

Staffan NILSSON


(1)  A seminar on ‘The security of supply in agriculture and in the food sector in the European Union’ was held in Helsinki on 31 May 2010 in connection with the drafting of the opinion.

(2)  As defined by the FAO Food Summit.

(3)  OJ C 100, 30.4.2009, p. 44.