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EU Food Security

What old-style CAP defenders claim

We must not endanger our food security by leaving agriculture to market forces. The volatility of food prices in recent years and the financial and economic crisis have demonstrated the necessity of government intervention. We need tariffs, subsidies coupled to production, and farm income support in order to ensure European self-sufficiency

European food production is comfortingly high

For more than five decades, the EU has produced more than enough food to nourish its citizens in every single year. In the future, the European food production potential is likely to grow further thanks to technological progress and improved farming methods, while EU population growth will be negligible. So the buffer between supply and the necessary food intake of the EU population is expanding. It is possible that climate change will make food production less stable – but the level of supply is so high that a famine is a most unlikely scenario in the EU.

… and the production potential is even higher

If the need arises, farmers can easily expand cultivated areas, use more intensive farming methods and shift production patterns to increase yields. In particular, curbing meat, milk, and biofuels production could free up capacity for growing basic grains. About 50 million hectares are used as pastures and permanent meadows, compared to about 100 million hectares of arable land. In addition, much arable land serves feed stuff production. In other words, the European production potential that could be easily unlocked is reassuring. This would not always be desirable from an environmental perspective, but tolerable under catastrophic conditions.

Saving food: the guaranteed reserve

Throwing away less food is a guaranteed way to have more on our plates if food should ever become scarce. In the EU, about one third of the food production is lost after the harvest. Making food processing, transportation and retailing more efficient and handling food more carefully in the household could greatly increase the quantity of food available for consumption. And this is right what will happen if food prices ever rise so high that we can no longer feed our population.

World markets: an additional reservoir

Some export restrictions abroad – as witnessed in 2008 – drive up world market prices. However, the EU has sufficient purchasing power to fulfill its needs even on a high-price world market. (See global food security for why reliance on world markets is not irresponsible towards the poor in developing countries.) The only threats to food imports are therefore global catastrophic food shortages, or a global war, that bring world food trade to a standstill.

Conclusion

The probability of food shortages in the EU is minimal. Nonetheless, we may want to take precautionary measures to further diminish this risk. The measures traditionally advocated for food security are inadequate. The Single Farm Payment increases farm incomes but barely the EU’s agricultural production potential. Tariffs and subsidies coupled to production stimulate primarily sectors that are not essential for food security, such as meat. Furthermore, they are conducive to intensive monoculture that is dependent on inputs (energy, seeds, plant protection products) and vulnerable to plant and animal diseases. So those policies that shortsightedly increase today’s production diminish long-term food security.

There are smarter ways to prepare for the remote possibility of food shortages. Public food reserves that are at historically low levels could be beefed up. The resistance of farming systems to climate change, water scarcity, and pests and diseases could be enhanced, for instance by safeguarding the genetic variety of plants and animals used in agriculture. Agriculture’s dependence on potentially endangered energy supplies could also be scaled back.