Food and Agriculture
Food and Agriculture
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has a pivotal role in the European Union, not only because farmland and forests account for more than 77% of land within the EU, but also because CAP is an essential mechanism for facing new challenges in terms of food quality, environmental protection and trade. The CAP offers a European perspective to a sector which has a very strong impact on peoples' daily lives in the form of food and agriculture. Its main purpose is to set the conditions which allow farmers to fulfil their multiple functions in society, the first of which is to produce food.
The EU has 500 million consumers and they all need a reliable supply of healthy and nutritious food at affordable prices. At the same time, farmers must be able to make a comfortable living from their work, and society must be made more aware of the value of their dedication and commitment.
Many young people no longer see farming as an attractive profession, with the result that there are fewer farmers. Encouraging young farmers and ensuring continuity from one generation to the next is a real challenge for rural development in the EU.
EU citizens are the ultimate beneficiaries of the CAP through a secure supply of high-quality food from EU farmers. Consumers can also easily find out how and where their food was produced because of the EU's labelling and traceability rules.
The EU values its rich culinary heritage and promotes consumer awareness of food safety and food quality issues. To that end, Community legislation for example protects organic farming and quality products and requires that consumers be informed of the presence of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foodstuffs. The marketing of GMOs intended either for human consumption or for animal feed is regulated at all stages and their presence is indicated on product labelling.
Not only have specific parameters been established to classify organic and quality foodstuffs, but also the following quality logos provide consumers with the guarantee that those parameters are being complied with:
In the EU food must also satisfy certain marketing and hygiene standards. Uniform marketing standards allow consumers to compare prices from different producers, whereas hygiene standards, which are applied from the farm to the table, ensure that food safety levels are maintained as products pass along the food chain. Imported products must meet the same standards as foods produced by EU farmers.
The CAP also encourages certification systems that guarantee environmental and animal welfare conditions under which foods have been produced. Animal welfare standards in the EU are among the highest in the world.
CAP: Moving with the times
Born more than 50 years ago when the founder members of the EU had not long emerged from a decade or more of food shortages, the CAP began by subsidising production of basic foodstuffs in the interests of self-sufficiency. The CAP of today, on the other hand, emphasises direct payments to farmers as the best way of guaranteeing farm incomes, food safety and quality, and environmentally sustainable production.
This approach makes it easier to recognise the role farmers play in improving quality, preserving biodiversity and traditional landscapes, and in keeping rural economies alive. It strikes a balance that spends the money where it is most needed, gives consumers safe food at a fair price and value for money for the EU taxpayer.
The change of emphasis began in the 1980's after the policy of self-sufficiency in key foodstuffs began to produce excessive surpluses. Beef and butter mountains, milk and wine lakes are now a thing of the past as a result of changes to make the CAP more cost-effective. The CAP once accounted for nearly 70% of the EU budget. Now it takes well under half as the EU has curbed CAP spending. At the same time, the range of activities funded from the budget for agriculture has expanded to include rural development and the environment. Less than 1% of all public expenditure in the EU goes on support for EU farmers.
Worries about the cost of the CAP and diminished concerns about food security were not the only drivers of change. As agriculture modernised and the EU economy became more service-oriented, the number of people working on the land dropped and survival of rural economies could no longer be taken for granted.
Therefore, as part of the EU's ‘Agenda 2000' -reform, rural development officially became the second pillar of the CAP alongside farming. While Member States remain responsible for their forestry policies, the European Commission helps co-ordinate those policies and also ensures that farm and rural policies do not conflict with the interests of sustainable forestry.
Agenda 2000 acknowledged also other concerns, such as food-related health scares. This resulted in environmentally sound production methods, high standards of animal welfare, and food safety and quality becoming higher priorities.
Subsidies for production were largely replaced by direct payments to farmers. These payments are nowadays conditional on compliance with environmental, food safety, animal and plant health, and animal welfare standards, as well as on keeping farmland in good condition, both for farming and in terms of preservation of the country side.
The regular and consistent adjustment of the CAP to pressures from European society and its evolving economy was again illustrated by the reforms in 2003, aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of the farm sector, promoting a market-oriented, sustainable agriculture and strengthening rural development policy. Throughout the latter half of 2000's, the CAP was further modernised and simplified as part of an aim to reduce regulatory burden and red-tape.
The new agreement on CAP reform, covering years 2014-2020, continues the path of reforms started in the early 1990's. The new CAP maintains the two pillars, but increases the links between them, thus offering a more integrated approach to policy support. It introduces a new architecture for direct payments, an enhanced safety net and strengthened rural development. The new policy continues the move from product to producer support and also to a more land-based approach. This is in response to the challenges facing the sector, many of which are driven by factors that are external to agriculture, such as economic (e.g. food security, price volatility and high production costs), environmental (e.g. resource efficiency, soil and water quality and biodiversity) and territorial (demographic, economic and social developments such as depopulation that rural areas face).
Food Safety: From farm to table
Food safety is vitally important. People in Europe want to be sure that, wherever their food comes from, and wherever they buy it, it is safe and wholesome. That means setting Europe-wide standards and taking Europe-wide action to enforce them. Doing so is a priority for the European Union.
The objective of the EU's food safety policy is to protect consumer health and interests while guaranteeing the smooth operation of the single market. In order to achieve this objective, the EU ensures that control standards are established and adhered to as regards food and food product hygiene, animal health and welfare, plant health and preventing the risk of contamination from external substances.
The EU food safety policy underwent a major reform in the early 2000's as a response to headline-hitting food safety scares in the 1990's and resulted in the adoption of the EU Food Law through Regulation (EC) 178/2002.
The Regulation provides a framework to ensure a coherent approach in the EU food legislation. It provides the general framework for areas not covered by specific harmonised rules but where the functioning of the European Internal Market is ensured by mutual recognition. It also lays down definitions, principles and obligations covering all stages of food and feed production and distribution, thereby guaranteeing a high level of safety for foodstuffs and food products marketed within the EU. This approach involves both food products produced within the EU and those imported from third countries.
In order to ensure the safety of food and feed in all stages, the EU Food law puts a strong emphasis on the concept of ‘traceability’. Traceability entails that food and feed businesses – whether they are producers, processors or importers – must make sure that all foodstuffs, animal feed and feed ingredients can be traced right through the food chain, from farm to table. Each business must be able to identify its supplier and which businesses it supplied.
Through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), food and feed control authorities can exchange information in a speedy way about measures taken in response to serious risks detected in relation to food or feed. This exchange of information helps Member States to act rapidly and in a coordinated manner in response to a health threat caused by food or feed.
Food law, and in particular measures relating to food safety must be underpinned by strong science. The EU has been at the forefront of the development of the risk analysis principles and their subsequent international acceptance. The three inter-related components of risk analysis (risk assessment, risk management and risk communication) provide the basis for food law as appropriate to the measure under consideration. Scientific assessment of risk must be undertaken in an independent, objective and transparent manner based on the best available science.
To secure this independent, scientific risk assessment, Regulation (EC) 178/2002 established the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). As the sovereign risk assessor, EFSA produces independent scientific advice and clear communication on existing and emerging risks associated with the food chain. This lays a sound foundation for European policies and legislation and supports the European Commission, European Parliament and EU Member States in taking effective and timely risk management decisions.
Food safety and the protection of consumer interests are of increasing concern to the general public, non-governmental organisations, professional associations, international trading partners and trade organisations. Consumer confidence is an essential outcome of a successful food policy and is therefore a primary goal of EU action related to food. Transparency of legislation and effective public consultation are essential elements of building this greater confidence. Better communication about food safety and the evaluation and explanation of potential risks, including full transparency of scientific opinions, are of key importance.
The EU is an active player in the development of international trading rules and standards and is committed to free trade in safe and wholesome foods and also to its international obligations particularly in relation to the Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) and the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreements (TBT) under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Food law should be developed in such a way that it does not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate against any international trading partner and should not present disguised barriers to trade.