EU lawmakers across party groups have called on the European Commission to stop promoting meat consumption as the war in Ukraine impacts the global food supply and leads to feed shortages in the EU.
The EU’s promotional funding for meat has long been a contentious issue, but the war in Ukraine and its ramifications for food supply in the EU and worldwide have added a new angle to the debate.
As both Ukraine and Russia are key producers of cereals, Moscow’s war risks bringing about food shortages in countries that are heavily dependent on wheat exports.
While the EU is largely self-sufficient when it comes to almost all food commodities, it is highly reliant on imports of inputs including animal feed, Commission official Wolfgang Burtscher told the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) on Thursday (31 March).
In last week’s communication on food security, the Commission therefore proposed that farmers should be allowed to use ecological focus areas for animal feed.
“The possibility to put feed there might liberate other areas in the EU to produce food,” Burtscher said.
Promotion policy under renewed fire
Meanwhile, lawmakers across the board who spoke in the committee argued that to ensure food security under the current circumstances, meat consumption altogether should be reduced and a higher proportion of crops should be used directly as food rather than animal feed.
“Do you really think it is right in these times to promote the export of meat with taxpayers’ money?” conservative lawmaker Peter Liese (European People’s Party) asked the Commission representative.
“Or should we not think twice and ask people to eat less meat, so that this could also help address the problem?” he added.
With its promotional policy, the EU financially supports the promotion of certain European agricultural products with the aim of boosting the competitiveness and consumption of EU agri-food products domestically and internationally.
In the run-up to the Commission’s recent revamp of the policy, which it finalised in December 2021, the question of meat promotion was already heavily debated.
Food versus feed
As the review aimed to bring promotion policy in line with the EU’s food flagship policy, the Farm to Fork Strategy, as well as its ‘Beating Cancer Plan’, many argued the EU should not help promote products like red meat, which are climate-intensive and linked to increased cancer risk.
Now, the Ukraine crisis has added an angle of food security to the debate.
Accelerating the shift towards healthier diets with fewer animal products “would reduce the amount of grain needed to feed the animals,” Green MEP Tilly Metz said during the debate, while her party colleague Jutta Paulus pointed out that “more than half of the cereal crops and around 80% of maize produced in the EU go to animal feed.
Delara Burkhardt from the Social Democrats (S&D) added that, in times of looming global food shortages, “crops belong (…) on the plates of people, not the feed trough”.
No way around livestock production
However, Burtscher argued that maintaining a certain level of livestock production was necessary for the functioning of the agricultural system.
For one, he said, animal manure was needed to reduce Europe’s reliance on synthetic fertilisers, which the EU imports in large parts from Russia and Belarus.
Moreover, many of the areas used for grazing or growing feed crops cannot be used to grow food for human consumption, Burtscher pointed out.
“Particularly in some Northern countries, there are areas where nothing other than feed is able to be produced in terms of quality – you cannot just produce wheat everywhere in Europe,” the official said.
Finally, he stressed that a majority of EU citizens’ protein intake still comes from animal products like meat or dairy.
“So is it not right to promote not the meat, but the way meat is produced?” Burtscher asked, concluding there was still a case to be made for the bloc to support organic meat through its promotion policy.
[Edited by Natasha Foote/Zoran Radosavljevic]