Sunday, July 20, 2008

UK edges towards food security policy

The UK Government has taken its first steps towards a national food security policy and abandoning its long-held stance of leaving supply to be determined by the market. However, it does not look as if it is going to ditch its support for reform of the CAP.

A discussion paper issued by Defra found 'the current global food security situation is a cause for deep concern', listing high energy prices, poor harvests, rising demand, biofuels and export bans in some countries as the main factors.

The government said it wanted to keep British farmers' productivity high, but insisted that the UK should not aim to be self-sufficient in food as that would make food supply too vulnerable to shocks, such as a poor harvest, floods or disease.

A food security policy, according to the document, would have to ensure a reliable supply of food; an efficient transport system; and that food was available at prices people could afford - in particular 'whether low-income consumers can afford enough nutritious food.' However, the paper was short on specifics on how the latter would be achieved.

The paper does not signal a revival of subsidies. Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers' Union, attacked the government for failing to commit to 'concrete proposals' to help farmers.

Britain now relies less on food imports than during most of the last century. The UK is about 60 per cent self-sufficient in food, up from about 40 - 50 per cent in the 1950s which was the heyday of productivism and national subsidies. The UK's self-sufficiency was at its highest at more than 70 per cent in the 1980s when generous CAP subsidies encouraged farmers to over produce.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Biofuel targets in doubt

The pace at which biofuels are introduced into the UK transport sector should be slowed, according to the 'Gallagher review' from the Government's Renewable Fuels Agency.

In the review Professor Gallagher states that 'there is a future for a sustainable biofuels industry. But feedstock production must avoid agricultural land that would otherwise be used for food production ... and the introduction of biofuels should be significantly slowed until adequate controls to address displacement effects are implemented.'

The report suggests that the target for road transport fuels to include 5 per cent biofuels by 2010/11 should be extended to 2013/14 and only increased thereafter 'if biofuels are shown to be demonstrably sustainable.' It also says that the EU's separate target of a 10 per cent inclusion rate by 2020 is not justified, and should be cut to 5 to 8 per cent.

Only 1 per cent of the world's crop land is given over to biofuel production at preesnt, and the review found it was probable that there was enough agricultural land available in the world to grow food and fuels at least until 2020. The review found that biofuels would contribute about 15 per cent to rises in the price of grain in Europe by 2020, compared with 2006 prices, if current biofuels targets were followed through.

The review also found, however, that the price of vegetable oils and oilseed was vulnerable to competition from biofuels, and would rise as much as 70 per cent in the US by 2020. compared with 2006 prices, if biofuel targets were met.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

French press for EU summit on CAP

French farm leaders have asked President Sarkozy to organise a Special Summit of EU heads of government on 'EU ambitions for the agriculture and agri-food sectors.' Perhaps the word 'EU' should be replaced by 'French'.

French Farm Minister Michel Barnier has already made it clear that he wants to have an in-depth discussion on the post-2013 CAP at the Informal Farm Council in Annecy in late September. This has received a cool reception from Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel who told Agra Focus, 'I am not sure that it is properly timed, to discuss this before we finalise the Health Check - but it is always a prerogatve of the Presidency to decide on the discussions during its tenure.'

Agra Focus also notes that during recent months 'French officials - and Farm Minister Michel Barnier in particular - have been omnipresent in Brussels, taking every occasion to raise issues, present memorandums or reports, and launch new initiatives. No one in our editorial team can remember a Member State ever being quite so keen to take office.'

France no doubt sees the food prices 'crisis' and the way that food security has moved up the political agenda as an opportunity to advance its agenda of subsidy and protection.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Thinking about food security

The Food Ethics Council has established an enviable reputation for reflective thinking about the challenges facing the food chain. It is therefore interesting to read a report from its Business Forum about food security.

The report points out that one reason that food security has risen up the political agenda is 'in part down to opportunism, as interest groups use a period of crisis to advance their agenda.' Although the report doesn't make this point, this has been particularly evident in relation to the CAP which its defenders seizing on rising food prices as a justification for maintaining subsidies, some even advocating the revival of discredited policy instruments such as intervention buying.

The report points out that 'Raised food prices may also put pressure on the environment, threatening to undo improvements in sustainability that have been achieved in recent decades. On the demand side, some consumers may "trade down", potentially compromising on premium products that make environmental, social and animal welfare claims. On the supply side, higher prices may drive producers to farm harder, potentially compromising biodiversity and other ecological benefits.'

The report commends the notion of 'food capacity' developed as an alternative to 'food security' by City University. In this approach, 'Building production capacity means improving the production base and supply chain governance, promoting labour skills and investing in R & D that supports sustainable agriculture.'