Thursday, December 06, 2012

Progress towards a European food model?

This paper reports on an Austrian workshop that sought to review progress towards a European food model: Food model

The construction of such a model has been an aspiration of the EU since the Fischler reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy. It sought to replace an earlier crude productionist model that emphasised the quantity of production with one that put the consumer at the centre of the model with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity. Implicit in this approach was a contrast with an American model which still adhered to a more Fordist model of homogeneous mass production. The interests of the farmer were still served because high value added production offered the prospect of better margins per unit of production.

The flaw in this model was that, although niche production had flourished as consumers had become wealthier and more discerning, a lot of European agriculture was still dependent on price-sensitive commodity production. An era of austerity has reinforced consumer behaviour in which price is the dominant consideration.

The Austrian paper takes sustainability as an unifying principle and considers the relationship between a number of dimensions such as food safety, food quality, regionality, diversity and value and appreciation of food.

From a British perspective there is an interesting absence of any reference to animal welfare. Indeed, it is claimed that conservation is promoted by 'bringing rare species and endangered animal breeds back on the table of consumers.' In other words, one eats that which is conserved.

Nevertheless, this paper is an interesting contribution to a continuing debate: what, if anything, is distinctive about European agriculture and how can the CAP best serve it?

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