Food security again under EU spotlight in the wake of COVID-19 crisis

A Croatian woman, wearing a protective face mask and gloves, buys vegetables and fruits at a farmers' market in downtown Zagreb. [EPA-EFE/BAT]

The COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on the EU’s flagship new food policy, as the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), presented on Wednesday (20 May), demonstrated a renewed interest in food security to ensure the supply during crises of any nature.

Although sustainability should have been at the core of the whole structure of the much-awaited F2F, the concept of food security has taken on an equally key role in the structure.

Unveiling its food strategy, the Commission has recognised that the current COVID-19 pandemic, although not linked to food safety, can place both food security and livelihoods at risks.

In order to mitigate risks linked to crisis situations threatening the sustainability of food systems, it is necessary to reflect on the overall resilience of our European strategic value chains to better protect Europe from similar disruptions in the future, the Commission’s communication said.

The EU executive put forward two proposals that had not been originally envisaged in the strategy to increase the long-term sustainability of food systems, drawing on the lessons learned from the pandemic.

Firstly, the Commission proposed to set up an EU Food Security Observatory that will improve the knowledge base, monitor and report on the Union’s capacity to assure the availability of food supplies, as well as food affordability.

The observatory will cover food production and critical supply infrastructure, providing transparency, coordination and support to decision-making in times of food security challenges.

In 2021, the EU executive is also expected to develop a contingency plan for ensuring food supply and food security during crises of any nature.

“In no way does this strategy trade-off to sustainability with food security, On the contrary, I would say that food security is an integral part of food sustainability,” explained health and food safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

According to the Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, the Farm to Fork presents a new approach on how the EU can ensure food security in the future while sustainably producing and treating food.

Lesson learnt from COVID-19

In the past few weeks, the Commission has been criticised for having decided to present its proposal while the COVID-19 crisis is still not over.

A few adjustments to the strategy were needed to take into account the proper assessment of the consequences of the crisis and shape the political agenda accordingly.

Farmers association COPA-COGECA had called for further postponement and debate of the strategy due to mounting pressures faced by farmers over the COVID-19 outbreak.

Similarly, the European People’s Party (EPP) group had also called for a further postponement until at least after the summer, citing the “crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“This unprecedented health crisis with COVID-19 has shown us how important it is that we do plan for the future,” said Commissioner Kyriakides, adding that in this case, the Biodiversity Strategy and the F2F are really coming at the right time.

For Timmermans, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been crystal clear: Green Deal, digitalisation and increasing resilience are the three guiding principles for how the EU sees its future.

“If we want that to work, we will have to put in the programs the conditions that help us move in that direction,” the Dutchman added.

The F2F must build on the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 crisis and give farmers the support they need to guarantee food security all across the EU, the chair of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (COMAGRI), Norbert Lins, commented after the strategy was launched.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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