Saturday

26th May 2018

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • 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

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.

The dangers of resurgent nationalism in Greece

Virulent nationalism in Greece has been stirred up in the context of austerity and renewed negotiations with Macedonia. Recent attempts by the government to address the inequalities suffered by LGBT persons have also been met with a reactionary backlash.

Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny

Most refugee-related services are outsourced to the private sector and NGOs, which are not adequately monitored and evaluated. When governments and EU institutions provide funding for refugee projects, they should scrutinise the NGOs and private players they work with.

Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny

Most refugee-related services are outsourced to the private sector and NGOs, which are not adequately monitored and evaluated. When governments and EU institutions provide funding for refugee projects, they should scrutinise the NGOs and private players they work with.

News in Brief

  1. Italy set to pick eurosceptic finance minister
  2. UK foreign minister fooled by Russian pranksters
  3. Rajoy ally gets 33 years in jail for corruption
  4. Close race as polls open in Irish abortion referendum
  5. Gazprom accepts EU conditions on gas supplies
  6. Facebook tells MEPs: non-users are not profiled
  7. Commission proposes ending France deficit procedure
  8. UK households hit with Brexit income loss

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman requests more lending transparency from European Investment Bank
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  3. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  4. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  5. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  6. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  8. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  12. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May
  2. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  6. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  8. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  9. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  10. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  11. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  12. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations