Towards a more holistic approach to EU food security
Food security is often used to justify the development of agriculture and food policies in the EU. Yet the EU’s role in domestic and global food security is not clearly defined and has been used to argue for greater focus on production rather than to address all aspects of food security (availability, access, utilisation, stability). Despite environmental and dietary sustainability being intrinsic to food security they are often not sufficiently taken into account in policy.
These wider aspects are essential in a balanced approach to addressing food security within the EU and globally and speak more to the importance of resilience of the EU’s food system, rather than food security in the abstract. The EU’s approach to food security should therefore consider both the EU and global context of action taken within the EU, taking account of the different dimensions of food security from a sustainability perspective.
This will require acknowledgement that increasing Europe’s agricultural output and the bloc’s competitiveness in global markets will do little to enhance global food security in other regions. It would further undermine the much-needed shift towards more sustainable production and consumption coming at the expense of the long-term sustainability of natural resources and ecosystems services necessary to maintain global and domestic food security.
The European Commission’s forthcoming Farm to Fork Strategy presents a significant opportunity for the EU to show leadership in its approach to food security through sustainable food production. This will require a clear political vision for the future of food and farming systems in the EU to 2030 and 2050 aligned with the UN SDGs, identifying the priorities for food- related policy areas (e.g. agriculture, trade and development etc.) and their interaction. The Farm to Fork Strategy will also need to be consistent with other emerging and long-term strategies, such as the revised Biodiversity Strategy, EU climate law, amongst others. It should also fully enable the use of the EU Structural and Investment Funds, including the rural development and cohesion funds, to drive this transition as part of the efforts to move towards a more circular and sustainable bioeconomy.
Agriculture policy is a tool to achieve Europe’s ambitions, not an end in and of itself, therefore as a delivery tool, the CAP has a central role to play in supporting the transition to a more secure and resilient food system in the EU, built on the sustainability of production and consumption. A new contract between farmers and society should be based on a full transition towards rewarding farmers for the environmental and climate goods they deliver, not just simple compliance with EU legislation. This requires a transition away from CAP direct support towards outcome-based payments combined with knowledge transfer, advice and innovation. This could be complemented by the introduction of other environmental fiscal measures on pesticides and synthetic fertilisers (e.g. based on chemical or nutrient content, volume etc) as well as imported feed. Such measures should be aligned with the EU’s proposed carbon border adjustment mechanism.
CAP strategic plans offer the opportunity to take a more coordinated approach to addressing the challenges of sustainable agriculture and land management. Yet the potential subsidiarity given to Member States remains a risk and is not helped by the lack of a clear vision for the EU agricultural sector to 2030 and 2050. This includes the absence of measureable targets designed to ensure the sector makes an active contribution to EU environmental, climate and other sustainability objectives, and to track progress towards those objectives. Therefore, strong accountability and robust monitoring need to be put in place in addition to effective transparency rules around national CAP strategic plans. This should include the right bodies and tools to allow citizens interests to be actively reflected in future policy making and monitoring, along with greater focus on empowering and upscaling pioneering national, regional and local initiatives in order to strengthen rural-urban linkages between land management and sustainable diets. A genuine shift towards more sustainable, resilient and secure food and farming systems requires issues related to both land management and sustainable diets to be treated together rather than in isolation.
Supporting this necessary shift will require not only maximising the opportunities available under the CAP, but also taking advantage of relevant EU policies and instruments related to food and farming. New approaches to address the gap between the retail price of food where the true cost of sustainability is internalised in the price of food commodities and products will be necessary alongside strategic planning. Fiscal measures need to be allied with the EU’s green public procurement policy and greater education about our food and farming decisions at all ages and in all sectors of society, particularly through school curriculum.