Saturday

31st Oct 2020

Opinion

EU has solutions to food crises in its grasp

Tuesday's (16 October) World Food Day took place against the backdrop of a looming food crisis - the third in five years.

Agriculture chiefs meeting in Rome this week must see that repeated food crises are no coincidence. They have clear root causes that need to be addressed. But it is in our hands. Choices made in Europe will either aggravate or alleviate future food crises, including three significant decisions being made imminently.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Biofuels put car drivers in Europe in competition for crops against the world's poorest people (Photo: Oscar Caos)

Droughts in the US and Eastern Europe this summer have sparked sharp peaks in global food prices – which rose by 10 percent in July compared to a year earlier.

Staple commodities hit record highs in August and September (maize and wheat were up 25% and soybean oil up 17%). But, these deadly fluctuations cannot be blamed only on bad weather.

Policy choices have created the conditions for a 'perfect storm' of increasing demand in tight and more volatile food markets. Financial speculation on food, diversion of food crops to biofuels for cars, and rising demand for animal feeds for meat, mean that higher and increasingly unstable food prices is fast becoming the new norm.

When global prices rise suddenly, more people go hungry.

An estimated 44 million people were pushed into poverty when high prices last struck in 2010, with women and children hit hardest. Sudden food price rises in 2008 sparked riots in dozens of countries – a scenario which the United Nations warns could be repeated if staple foods, such as maize and wheat, jump again.

As agriculture ministers meet to discuss the next food crisis, the EU is about to take some momentous decisions that could either avert future crises, or make them worse.

Firstly, the European Commission is proposing to cap biofuels made from food: this is not enough and European leaders should insist they be slashed to zero. Almost half of all maize grown in the US, and 60 percent of rapeseed in Europe, is now being burned in cars.

This is when research shows most biofuels actually accelerate, rather than lessen, climate change. Biofuels pit the world's hungry against relatively affluent motorists in competition for crops: it’s clear it is drivers who are winning.

Secondly, EU ministers and the European Parliament are about to vote on proposals that could rein in excessive food speculation.

Financial speculation on food prices - when banks and hedge funds reap huge profits from betting on food prices - drives up prices and volatility, and must be curbed.

The revision of a financial regulation, the EU Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, provides a unique opportunity to end this deadly trade. But, the text is currently too weak and full of loopholes.

Unless these failings in the regulation are fixed, and limits placed on the share of the food commodity markets an investor can hold, harmful speculation will continue to fuel devastating price volatility and hunger.

Thanks to public pressure a number of banks, such as Deutsche Bank and Raiffeisen, have voluntarily withdrawn from food speculation. Now politicians must follow suit.

And lastly, agriculture ministers and the European Parliament are about to agree on a reform of Europe's Common Agricultural Policy.

We currently import massive amounts of soy and maize from the Americas to feed European factory farms. We need to reduce this demand by cutting industrial meat production and feeding farm animals grass and local crops, such as beans and peas.

Farmers need to be supported to grow protein plants and rotate their crops as part of a move to a greener model of agriculture.

This should be complemented with initiatives to encourage people to eat less meat and dairy.

Doing so will cut Europe’s dependence on imported grain commodities, and lessen the pressure exerted on tight food markets.

Repeated food crises are no coincidence. But solutions are within reach, and now is the time for the EU to grasp the opportunity. Three clear steps would help prevent future food crises and save millions from poverty and hunger.

Robbie Blake is an activist at Friends of the Earth Europe, a Brussels-based NGO group

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU to cap biofuel target to protect food

The EU intends to cap the contribution made by crop-based biofuels to its renewable energy target under draft legislation tabled on Wednesday.

I'm an 'election observer' - but what do we actually do?

There is a persistent problem of 'fake observers.' Often the government of the country they are observing, or even the election management body itself, pays for these observers, holds fancy dinners, and puts them in five-star hotels.

Belarus - dictators win when democracies appease

The sincere and simple personality of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, currently the most famous Belarusian opposition leader in the world, is truly fascinating, writes Lithuania's minister of foreign affairs, Linas Linkevičius.

News in Brief

  1. Polish government rows back on abortion ruling
  2. EU threatens legal action against Poland on rule of law
  3. 'Several dead' after earthquake hits Greece and Turkey
  4. Hungary faces EU court over asylum restrictions
  5. Polish PM urges end to abortion protests to 'protect elderly'
  6. EU to fund cross-border hospital transfers
  7. Some 140 migrants drown on way to Spanish islands
  8. EU central bank preparing new rescue measures

Backroom deal will make CAP reform a catastrophic failure

MEPs will vote this week on a supposedly historical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which accounts for over one-third of the EU's annual budget. But as it stands, it is set to become a historical failure of catastrophic proportions.

Amazon's spying on EU workers just tip of iceberg

Amazon is leading an assault on workers' rights in Europe, using big data and surveillance to crush efforts by workers to improve their conditions. It's symptomatic of a climate of impunity around breaches of privacy that benefit corporations over workers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. Nice attack: EU urges world leaders to stop hate speech
  2. Europe is back in (partial) lockdown
  3. Gender equality still 60 years away, warns study
  4. I'm an 'election observer' - but what do we actually do?
  5. Deal in reach on linking EU funds to rule of law
  6. EU Commission's Covid-19 expert offers bleak outlook
  7. Belgium's collaboration with Sudan's secret service: my story
  8. What do ordinary Belarusians want from the EU?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us