European countries performed differently in a study that measures the state of global food security, showing an internal discrepancy within the bloc that put Europe behind North America in the ranking of regions.
Developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Global Food Security Index highlights drivers and factors that affect food security in more than a hundred countries across the world.
Performances of countries are ranked in the index considering elements of the food system such as affordability, availability, quality and safety, as well as natural resources and resilience.
The ninth edition of the report, released on Tuesday (23 February), has confirmed the EU as the biggest concentration of food security leaders in the world.
The top 20 of the index includes eleven EU countries, with even Finland, Ireland and the Netherlands on the podium.
Despite these highest rank positions for single countries, Europe is just the second-best food security environment if considered as a region, being surpassed by North America in this year’s index.
“That’s because there is an internal discrepancy in the bloc,” Pratima Singh, the project lead for the index at The Economist Intelligence Unit, told EURACTIV.
The researcher explained that the level of food security in the EU is not uniform as the performances of both Mediterranean countries and Central and Eastern Europe are significantly lower than in Western and Northern Europe.
Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary are the lowest-ranked countries in the EU, getting respectively 44th, 40th and 36th place in the food security standings worldwide.
The issue of food security in Europe has been in the spotlight again after the Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius argued recently that it is no longer a major concern for the EU.
The young Lithuanian Commissioner said other challenges are dominating the European food system, such as food waste, overconsumption, obesity and its overall environmental footprint.
Most volatile production in the world
EU member states perform well overall, maintaining strong scores when it comes to equitable access to food resources.
The bloc also remains the world leader in dietary diversity and availability of nutrients. In particular, European countries have ensured access to key micronutrients including vitamin A, iron and zinc in their national diets in the 2012-2020 period.
However, Bulgaria, Greece and Slovakia “still have work to do” when it comes to national dietary guidelines and nutritional labelling.
The EU executive is expected to put forward a proposal for a harmonised food labelling scheme in the context of its Farm to Fork strategy (F2F) that will consider the nutritional aspects of foodstuffs.
Although food safety standards remain high across the region, more infrastructure investments are needed in countries like Romania, which requires extending water networks across the whole national territory.
According to Igor Teslenko, president of the European branch of the agriculture company Corteva, who sponsored this year’s index, Europe’s increased vulnerability to extreme weather conditions, such as droughts and flooding, is one of the main vulnerabilities identified by the report.
In 2018, cereal and vegetable production in Denmark and Sweden was halved due to the drought, leading to the worst crop harvest in about 50 years.
Climate change is making agriculture production in Europe more volatile than in other parts of the world, acting as a barrier for predicting and planning for a consistent food supply, the report continued.
The study also recognised that Europe is the leading region when it comes to policy commitment to climate adaptation, as national climate-change strategies already include agricultural adaptation.
“Members of the EU, in particular, offer examples of cross-country collaboration, through initiatives such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP),” it said.
Shock-proof and food loss
One bright spot comes from the area of food loss, where for the third consecutive year the Old Continent has been deemed the global leader.
Ireland is the top performer in successfully managing food loss, thanks to joint efforts of the governments and civil society organisations. Bulgaria and Greece remain two exceptions in the EU, with food loss performance below the global average.
Although food safety nets are under stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in European countries they have proven to be robust, the report showed.
Food supply in EU countries faced threats particularly on the consumer side, including panic buying of essentials, but “the bloc’s food systems have largely managed to cope, including those in poorer Eastern countries.”
Spikes in food prices have been observed in Hungary, Portugal, and Belgium, where they were mostly attributed to supply chain disruptions and heightened demand in the wake of the COVID crisis.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]