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How ethical is the food we eat? Debating Europe will be running a series of debates called Food for Thought, looking at everything from animal welfare and the economics of the food industry, to food safety and GMOs. For our first debate in the series, we want to take a look at food security, farm subsidies, and the impact of Europe’s agricultural sector on the developing world.

We asked you what you thought was the best way to ensure global food security. In response, we had a comment sent in from Tom, who argued that European subsidies were hurting the world’s poorest farmers and undermining food security in the developing world:

citizen_icon_180x180Stop agricultural subsidies and tariffs in rich countries. Stop dumping surpluses; even in famine situations it’s often the case that food is available locally, just too expensive for most people, so in emergencies give cash locally to buy food and support local markets… Stop distorting the market with subsidies for biofuels which are replacing food crops.

Between 2014 and 2020, the European Union will spend €95 billion on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), 70% of the which will be spent on subsidies in the form of direct payments to European farmers. The Commission argues that this system guarantees food security in Europe, but does it do so at the expense of food security in some of the world’s poorest countries?

Supporters of the CAP argue that the world’s 50 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are already able to export unlimited quantities of agricultural goods to the EU duty free under the “Everything But Arms” initiative. In addition, the EU has steadily been phasing out farming export subsidies, and agreed during a WTO summit in Kenya in December 2015 to abolish them completely.

Nevertheless, food security remains a concern. When global food prices rose in 2008, it triggered riots that led to the “Arab Spring” and, ultimately, to the Syrian civil war and current refugee crisis. Such volatility could be more common in future, as the world’s population is estimated to exceed nine billion by 2050 with global food demand almost doubling. At the same time, land and water resources are also under pressure for other reasons, including for biofuels. Some reports suggest that European corporations are involved in “land grabbing” in Africa and Asia for the purposes of growing export crops and biofuels (though other analysts question the scale of the land purchases).

To get an expert reaction to Tom’s comment, we recently spoke to Hans van Meijl, Research Director in Food Security & Bio-Based Economy at Wageningen University. What would he say to Tom?

For another perspective, we also spoke to Francesco Tramontin, Director of External Affairs Europe at Mondelēz  International, one of the world’s largest food, confectionery, and beverage companies. How would he reply to Tom?

We also had a comment sent in from Marouschka, arguing that food security will ultimately require land reform in the developing world. In other word, should land be redistributed to the poorest farmers? Here’s what she had to say:

citizen_icon_180x180[The] main cause of concern is land ownership. Big parts of fertile land are still sold to big investors for big money, without paying attention to the existing rights and needs of smallholder farmers. Large-scale agriculture is not bad per sé, on the contrary as it might improve agricultural productivity and the accessibility of food. But it is harmful when it destroys the little bit of food security local farmers have by chasing them away from the land they lived on for generations or by using up the majority of the water supply available.

How would Hans van Meijl respond to Marouschka’s argument?

Finally, what would Francesco Tramontin say? Did he agree that land reform was a necessary precondition for food security?

Are EU subsidies hurting the world’s poorest farmers? Would land reforms in the developing world be the best way to ensure global food security? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

21 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Vinko Rajic

    YES ! EU is creating more damage than helping Africa . EU is sending money to Africa using church network . What church did in Africa was to build churches and using that power from the EU to install corrupt governments there . Using spider network from the church they use natural resources and people there . They just prevent their development . It is the same in Croatia . EU should have teams of experts that should find out how to help poor people there and use EU money to help them and not to install government there . Africans should have democracy and receive economic aid . This kind of people is never going to help poor and I know that from own experience , they just wants to have power and use you for own needs :

  2. avatar
    Paulo Especial

    The purpose of the subsidies is to help European farmers upgrade their tools so that better quality produce can be farmed.

    Is also helps economically those same farmers since the price of farming better quality produce intensely isn’t the same as low quality ones.

    I live in Europe in a society aiming for quality and sustainability. If farmers from other places outside Europe want to sell their produce in Europe. Than they must cope with our views on the subject and not the way around.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Paulo Especial
      Its not just subsidies that have impoverished the world’s poorest farmers it is also tariffs against same.

      Subsidies have also allowed unprofitable small farms/farmers in the likes of France to exist instead of allowing same to expire or indeed be absorbed into larger more economically viable farms.

  3. avatar
    Enric Mestres Girbal

    YES…european subsidies do not go to small farmers…they go to the big enterprises. As they are now, subsides go to the land (even if is not cultivated) and not to the everyday working framers.

  4. avatar

    I have to say that not only the poorest world farmers but many others neighboring “competitors” are considered a potential “threat” to traditional agricultural hegemony and their lobby. Luckily for the poor farmers, the organic, seasonal, natural, slow grow, not for profit and not genetically modified kind of agriculture, there is an increasing demand for their products worldwide.

  5. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    How ethical is the food we eat? Is this food- or to act unethical- contagious?

    Surely, only (global) companies with a culture of profit before sustainability & utilizing comparative advantages who grow & produce food can be (judged) ethical or not- food is only a product!

    Are there not similarities to the bunch of rabid politicians trying to abolish sovereign countries (like small farmers) by striving towards “enlargement” and greater global reach and control- managed and benefiting a handful?

    ALL food giants and their political supporters of deregulations act unethically if not constrained (“TTIP”). Every country on earth has their special mix of land & farming issues! Global domination by a few is neither ethical nor cheaper- it’s the opposite. It remains an undercover game of monopoly and domination by the 1%! It is also disingenuous to frighten us folks with the “concept of food security” when it endangers it plus diminishes food safety- especially in times of serious political upheavals & climatic disruptions.

    A few names: Monsanto, Nestle, Coca Cola- palm oil plantations, industrial farming, environmental degradation, pollution, hormones, poisoning, sicknesses & increasing health costs. Where are the savings in the end? Food & farmers are not comparable to the (unethical) robotic production of (VW) cars or IT gadgets- profits expressed in the annual balance sheet!

    We need a “food production renaissance” and a return to rely on our own countries ingenuity & resources as much as possible! Not pretend to be worried about 9 bio people! It’s not our- nor the EU’s task! It only offers new business opportunities for the established & profit hungry- if they get away with it!

    If subsidies are needed at home to protect and keep loyal and local farmers on their ancestral land- so be it! It’s cheaper, safer and more secure in the long run instead to hand over “food security” to a bunch of greedy, cold bloodied industrialists & their bankers- void of any earthbound conscience!

    • avatar
      Hugh Gardner

      I couldn’t have put it better. As a farmer I should know.

  6. avatar
    Adrian Limbidis

    And who cares?
    EU politicians should care about the EU – period.
    They clearly FAIL in that regard already.

    If the EU subsidies hurt non-EU actors, then so be it. All I care is about the EU – nothing else.

    • avatar
      Hugh Gardner

      This is a very short sighted view and has lead to war, environmental exploitation and starvation around the world.

  7. avatar

    This is a never ending debate and is a really complex topic.

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