Concerns about skyrocketing food prices and growing pressures on land and water were the focus of a high level conference in Brussels yesterday (3 July). Most participants agreed that agricultural markets and farm output need to be improved in order to feed the planet’s growing population.
French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier, EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel and EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel were among the panellists at the conference, organised by the French EU Presidency and held at the European Parliament in Brussels.
During a press conference on the margins of the conference, Barnier repeated an earlier call for the creation of regional models, based on the CAP, whereby developing states would cooperate more closely in agricultural matters. While such a model should not lead to excessive protectionism, developing states should also not be subjected to the “brutal liberalisation” of global agricultural markets, he said.
Barnier, who will chair the meetings of the EU’s agricultural ministers for the next six months under the French EU Presidency, is a strong supporter of keeping a strong CAP and has been using the food crisis as an argument against further market reforms of the policy (EURACTIV 20/05/08).
But Ivo Hlavac, state secretary for agriculture for the Czech Republic, which takes over the EU’s six-month rotating presidency in January 2009, says the current CAP reform plans are the way forward and expects the plans to be finalised before the end of the year (EURACTIV 04/07/08).
Biofuels to blame?
But while the Commission’s CAP reform plans were generally welcomed, Brussels is under growing pressure to scrap its controversial targets for the use of biofuels, which should constitute 10% of the EU’s transport fuels by 2020, according to a 23 January Commission proposal (EURACTIV LinksDossier). There are concerns that the cultivation of crops for fuel instead of food is driving up food prices even further and increasing poverty while degrading the environment.
The pressure for a re-think on biofuels is unlikely to relent. A new report by the World Bank, which was leaked to the press, concludes that the US and EU biofuels policies have already led to a 75% increase in global food prices, far more than previously estimated.
“Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate,” according to the report, which contradicts one of the most commonly-cited explanations for the rise in prices. “Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases,” it says.