When does the EU start to reassess its attitude towards food?

In addition to the human misery inflicted on Ukraine by the Russian invasion, the war has led to a broad debate around the fundamentals of EU energy supply and the need for an immediate energy policy overhaul. global EU.

There is additional complexity regarding how this might fit in with the decarbonisation of the EU economy in response to climate challenges.

While hindsight is a great producer of afterthought, the war in Ukraine, following the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and the 2008-2012 recession, in addition to the global climate challenge, highlights the need for multifaceted responses to multifaceted challenges. .

Moreover, the speed with which each crisis has followed the previous one means that policy plans and platforms require both depth and flexibility and can actually be very short-lived.

EU attitude towards food

In this context, the silence from EU quarters around the current position of the EU Green Deal and EU agri-food policy in general is quite deafening.

EU policy was once said to be the original equivalent of the supertanker – very slow to change direction or pace; he now appears to be calmed down and adrift.

As agriculture enters the 2020s, there have been fears in recent years that the main drivers of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform could create a definitive shift towards bilateralism in trade agreements.

These key drivers include the review in 2020 of the EU’s response to pressure from the World Trade Organization (WTO) dating back to the mid-1990s to continue to decouple payments from production and eliminate all export subsidies, despite the fact that there has not been a successful multilateral trade agreement since Uruguay in 1994 and the stalled Doha Round in 2008,

While Phil Hogan was European Commissioner for Trade, the economic contribution of the agri-food sector was regularly highlighted.

The philosophy behind DG Agri’s current arrangement, according to Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, appears to be that moving all farming to an all-organic platform is a silver bullet.

Indeed, the narrative behind the EU Green Deal and its focus on limiting EU production has elements of a hangover from the early 2000s view that agriculture from the EU is a “declining” industry and future food production is expected to migrate to developing countries like Brazil.

Economic contribution of agriculture

This disregard for agriculture as a factor in the modern economy has now turned into regular comments from the commission that limiting agricultural production, and in particular the production of the livestock sector, is a more important action. to reduce EU emissions.

More important even than tackling more glaring fossil fuel-based and scientifically hard-hitting challenges such as coal mining.

Indeed, there is rarely a statement from the Climate Action Committee that does not stress the ‘need’ to reduce the consumption of meat and dairy products, as if this were again some sort of miracle solution.

Irish agricultural policy

This indifference to the dynamic reality of supply shocks and the fundamental scientific realities of climate challenges has been greatly compounded in the context of the Irish economy by the onslaught of the environmental lobby in Ireland pushing to restrict Irish food production in its present form, as a key climate policy imperative.

A mature reflection is called for.

Clearly and publicly, discussions are underway about the need for EU countries to wean themselves off Russian gas and oil and secure alternative energy supplies.

And even though, very publicly, this debate prioritizes the acceleration of alternative renewable energy production, there is full acceptance of the need for fossil fuel-based energy sources in the short and medium term.

Quite frankly, we need an ongoing debate at European and Irish national level on future food policy based on well-founded pragmatism and economic and scientific realities.

I think such an approach, starting at home, would recognize that while Irish agriculture is committed to delivering its fair share of commitments to decarbonise the Irish economy, limiting Irish livestock production, as a value fundamental, does not make sense.

Not only is it unwise given the realities of the hyper volatility we currently live in and the challenges this poses in terms of access to international food supply chains, restricting Irish agriculture has been and is extremely detrimental to the real Irish economy.

Data: CSO Ireland

Indeed, although there are significant challenges related to the cost of inputs in the agricultural sector in 2022, as shown in the graph from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) aboveBeef and Dairy Producer Price Increase in Farm Producer Price Chart belowwill make a huge contribution to the value of Irish agricultural production across the Irish economy in 2022.

Data: CSO Ireland

The great economist JM Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind, what do you do?”

We need a change of mindset at EU level regarding the new realities of agrifood production and prices, a good first start for an updated European debate would be an update here at home.