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What's causing the food crisis in Europe?

On Feb. 10, the Progressive Alliance of Democrats in the European Parliament held an event called "Feeding Europe in Times of Crisis" in Sofia, Bulgaria. Members of the Bulgarian and Slovakian governments, the European Parliament from Bulgaria, Romania, and Spain, as well as Bulgarian and European representatives of public organizations and industry associations participated in this event.

The main topic of discussion – the factors that have led to the food crisis in Europe.

In every report, the war in Ukraine was named as one of the four most important causes. Although almost all speeches condemned Russia's aggression and expressed support for Ukraine, there were several criticisms of Ukraine related to the reduction of prices for the products produced by European farmers, tariff-free imports, and doubts about the quality of Ukrainian products. The European sanctions imposed on Russia and the Russian sanctions imposed on European farmers in retaliation, which resulted in the reduction of food exports from the EU to Russia, were also mentioned.

The other three reasons for the food crisis were the implementation of the European Green Deal, the COVID-19 pandemic, and inflation.

The pandemic and the world’s response are directly linked through lockdowns and the huge payments to support businesses that closed and direct payments to workers for lost income. The analysis of this problem is only beginning to be cautiously approached, because it means opening a Pandora's box to analyze the wrong and harmful measures taken by governments around the globe.

Most of the criticism was directed toward the European Green Deal and its attempt to combat climate change. In particular, the “From Farm to Fork” program in the Deal was mentioned, which includes the following goals:

  • Make 25% of EU agriculture organic by 2030.
  • Reduce the use of pesticides by 50% by 2030.
  • Reduce the use of fertilizers by 20% by 2030.
  • Reduce nutrient loss by at least 50%.
  • Reduce the use of antimicrobials in agriculture and antimicrobials in aquaculture by 50% by 2030.
  • Create sustainable labeling of food products.
  • Reduce food waste by 50% by 2030.
  • Allocate 10 billion euros to research and innovation related to this program.

Measures to achieve these goals include reducing meat consumption by 20%, reducing milk consumption by 6.3%, and reducing soy imports to zero.

In total, there were 22 speakers at the event. Below are key takeaways from three of the panel discussions.

Panel One: Impact of Multiple Crises: Growing Regional Inequalities

The EU recently approved the use of insect meal as a food source of protein instead of meat. However, replacing cows with insects raises the question of where will milk come from and what will replace it?

In addition, a reduction in the supply of meat and milk will automatically lead to an increase in their processing and price.

Similarly, reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides will lead to lower yields in crop production, which, again, will push up the prices of feed, grain, bread, pasta, fruits, and vegetables. In fact, food prices are expected to increase by an average of 16%. Low food prices and environmental protection do not go hand in hand.

Consumers are primarily concerned about the price, not packaging, and the quality and safety of food, since the increase in price will hit the low-income segments of the population the hardest, according to reports.

In addition, event participants noted that another problem with the From Farm to Fork program is the uneven operational conditions of the new EU farmer members compared to the farmers of other countries. For example, farmers in the Netherlands ostensibly operate under more favorable conditions. There should also be the same requirements for European and non-European food producers in areas such as the content of pesticides.

To solve infrastructure problems, the need for substantial coverage of high-speed Internet in rural areas was also mentioned. Currently, only 40% of rural areas are covered.

In addition, the EU energy strategy was criticized. The closure of nuclear power plants led to an acceleration of the use of renewable energy sources and dependence on natural gas. Stimulating the use of solar panels has led to a decrease in the area under pastures, orchards, and vineyards. The closure of nuclear and coal-fired power plants and the transition to natural gas made Europe dependent on Russia.

Farm to Fork policies have diverted attention from agriculture to packaging and labeling. During the implementation of this program, farmers act as guinea pigs because there are practically no studies on the possible negative consequences of this policy.

Panel Two: Food and Health

During this panel, several main points were outlined.

A reduction in the production of agricultural products by 30% will lead to an increase in imports. This situation will be difficult to reverse. A reduction in the production of agricultural products will also mean a production increase in other countries, and therefore lead to an increase in the use of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as an increase in the volume of greenhouse gas emissions, which nullifies the whole idea of combating global climate change.

  1. Reducing the herd to 150 cows per farm in the EU will mean an increase in production costs because of scale. Such a policy is economically unreasonable.
  2. African swine fever puts pressure on the disposal of diseased animals. In addition, the health of not only farm animals, but also pets (e.g., cats, dogs, etc.) is important.
  3. By 2020, the use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine has decreased by 43%, and since their first introduction, by 97.7%. However, it is impossible to completely abandon antibiotics in veterinary medicine.
  4. Reducing the use of bone meal as a protein source in feed has led to an increase in the use of soybeans, which, in turn, has led to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. The attitude toward GMOs needs to be revised. Organic products will not be available to most of the population. It is necessary to prevent the increase in the cost of production and import of low-quality products.
  6. Russia's aggression against Ukraine affects the whole world, because these two countries provide 30% of the world's demand for food.
  7. The population does not accept food from insects, including the lack of clarification from the FAO.
  8. Politicians do not listen to farmers.

Panel Three: Competition and Trade

There is no mention of competition in the Farm to Fork strategy. In addition, it does not pay attention to the issue of the supply of inputs, such as seeds.

To level the operating conditions, it is necessary to develop global standards, including the safety and quality of products.

There is no internationally recognized Bulgarian cheese and yogurt brand. At the same time, the average amount of milk per cow is more than twice as low in Bulgaria than in the EU (3.18 tons versus 7.8 tons), and the consumption of dairy products is 1.5 times smaller (187 kg versus 318 kg per person).

The European Green Deal was adopted by Brussels bureaucrats in peacetime and must be immediately revised in the context of the current crises.

Much of the population (including Brussels bureaucrats) do not know how food is produced. European policy is dictated by Greenpeace, the animal protection movement.

European poultry farming is not competitive in terms of price with products from third countries. Many facets of the Farm to Fork program will have a negative impact on the competitiveness of the European agricultural sector.

The largest exporters of chicken to the EU are Brazil and Ukraine. At the same time, it is necessary to revise the existing policy regarding imports from Ukraine.

Eighty percent of feed in the EU contains GMOs, which is allowed by European directives. At the same time, consumers are not concerned about the presence of GMOs in feed. Without the use of GMOs, European animal husbandry will be at a competitive disadvantage.

About the Author: Iurii Mykhaylov is an agricultural journalist in Ukraine.

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