Innovation in EU agriculture - European Union Committee Contents

CHAPTER 2: A strategic approach to food production

    "Inevitably, food is globalised. The issue is how one can make globalisation work for the betterment of food security ... As climate change inevitably kicks in over the coming decades, one of the ways in which globalisation can work in favour of food security is by having not a single bread basket feeding the region, but a globally inter-connected set of bread baskets so that, when there is a horrific production shock on one area, the food system can adjust to it. As one of the major trading blocs in the world, the EU can have a major effect in promoting this globalised food system that works for food security."

Professor Charles Godfray, Head of Department of Zoology, University of Oxford.[12]

14.  In recent years, the recognition has taken hold of the urgent need for policy-makers to respond to the threats to global food security in the period to 2050, when the world's population is projected to reach a maximum of 9 billion. In January of this year, the Government Office for Science published the Foresight report on "Global Food and Farming Futures",[13] which offered an authoritative oversight of the issues. In stressing the importance of shaping policies for the global food system (rather than tackling individual elements in isolation), it highlighted six important drivers of change: global population increases; changes in the size and nature of per capita demand; future governance of the food system; climate change; competition for key resources; and changes in consumers' values.[14]

15.  The failure of supply to meet demand will contribute to rising food prices, another major challenge with which the world is already grappling. The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2011-2020 projected price increases in real terms over that period of 20% for cereals (maize) and 30% for meat (poultry), compared to the last decade. [15]


16.  The Foresight report reiterated the need to bring about "sustainable intensification". We recommended that the requirements of a sustainable intensification of agriculture should be the defining characteristics of the future CAP in our March 2010 report on "Adapting to climate change: EU agriculture and forestry".[16] In his evidence to this inquiry, Professor Godfray, one of the lead experts for the Foresight report, said that, given the certainty of increasing demand, sustainable intensification was "almost a deduction rather than an argument", and he described innovation as critical to sustainability.[17]

17.  Climate change is only one of several challenges to the food system. However, an analysis of future developments in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU contained in the Commission's March 2011 Communication "A Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050"[18] makes it clear that EU agriculture may become increasingly important in climate policy. While the significant reduction in the sector's GHG emissions since 1990 may well be extended to 2030, the rate of reductions could then slow down, in part because of increased agricultural production due to the growing global population: "by 2050, [on current trends] agriculture is projected to represent a third of total EU emissions, tripling its share compared to today".[19]

18.  The concerns which we expressed in our March 2010 report have been reinforced by other analyses that have come forward since then, notably in the debate about global food security. We believe that the need for global food security requires a broad, co-ordinated and swift response from Member States and the Commission, which must take account of the different elements of the food system. Improving the productivity of EU agriculture is an important contribution to meeting the challenge. The response also requires innovation, through new products and processes, and through ensuring that farmers make use of best practice methodologies and technologies. Agricultural innovation must achieve "sustainable intensification".

19.  This means that inputs (fossil fuels, fertilisers, water and pesticides) into agricultural systems will need to be reduced per unit area of land, while outputs are increased and impacts are reduced on the ecological processes on which agriculture depends, particularly on soils, climate, water bodies and biodiversity. In addition to rising demand for food, in the coming decades there is likely to be rising demand for public goods[20] from agricultural ecosystems, such as carbon sequestration and the protection of bio-diversity.

20.  The Foresight report identifies, within the food system, the relevance of waste reduction, and the exchange of knowledge with developing countries, as important elements of the policy response to the challenge of food security. Professor Godfray referred to the report's proposed target of halving the total amount of food waste by 2050. He drew the distinction between high-income countries, where food waste mainly occurred in the home and the food service sector, and low-income countries, where nearly all food waste happens in the farm and the food system. Incentives to modify behaviour, allied with education, or food literacy, were possible responses to the issue in high-income countries; targeting new knowledge, spreading best practice and supporting investment in the agri-food system were appropriate to low-income countries.

21.  In the European Union, the European Commission has recognised the substantial amount of food waste and the untapped environmental and economic potential offered by better management of it. A 2010 Communication[21] noted that, in the EU, between 110 and 138 million tonnes of bio-waste[22] are produced every year, and this is projected to increase on average by 20% by 2020. The Commission acknowledges that, in the vast majority of Member States "no clear and measurable steps to increase bio-waste prevention have been taken", partly due to perceived sensitivities regarding limitations on consumer choice. Nevertheless, the Commission will produce specific guidance on bio-waste prevention for national waste prevention plans and will propose a set of indicators for prevention measures with a view to targets in the future.

22.  We agree on the vital importance of reducing food waste but are far from convinced that EU Member States are taking the issue seriously. We recommend that the European Union move swiftly towards the adoption of indicators for bio-waste prevention measures and then towards bio-waste prevention targets.

23.  In terms of its international responsibilities, the EU has the opportunity to draw lessons from the sustainable intensification of European agriculture and offer the knowledge gained to help low-income countries improve their own agri-food systems. This must include waste reduction, which in developing countries mostly occurs before and after harvest, especially during storage.


24.  A point frequently made to our inquiry was that the agricultural sector, in the UK and in the EU, is very diverse. The written evidence that we received from Defra described UK farming as essentially an industry characterised by a large number of small businesses, although it should be noted that much smaller agricultural businesses are a feature of some other EU countries. In June 2008, there were estimated to be some 328,000 agricultural holdings in the UK, with a very skewed distribution: "A reasonable approximation is that around 20% of registered farm holdings account for about 80% of the output/value added, and that more than half of output/value added is provided by well under 10% of farms."[23]

25.  Looking across the EU, Mr Georg Häusler, Head of Cabinet in DG Agriculture, contrasted the advanced nature of much of the UK's agriculture with farming in some of the other EU15 Member States, such as Portugal, Greece, Spain, Austria and the south of Germany, where the sector needed a great deal of development to become efficient. He referred as well to the heterogeneous nature of farming in the newer Member States, pointing to the extent of small-scale farming in countries such as Poland and Romania.[24]

26.  Not least because the sector contains a multiplicity of very small businesses, it is clear that the agricultural industry will find it hard to play an effective role in responding to global food security without an overarching food strategy, at either UK or EU level. Professor Peter Lillford, of the Department of Biology at the University of York, contrasted the success of the Netherlands in co-ordinating the efforts of the different parts of the Dutch agri-food system with the position in the UK. The key to the Netherlands' success was "a national plan. They are a smaller nation than us with less global ambition, but they have decided that they are going to be very good at food and food processing in Europe ... the food industry does not represent such a high priority in our nation as it should".[25]

27.  We raised this issue with Mr Jim Paice, MP, Minister of State at Defra. He said that until the start of 2010, when the "Food 2030" strategy was published, "the previous Government had basically set its face against any thought that British agriculture was important"; and he commented that the "Food 2030" strategy was in any case "extremely vague in content and actual proposals".[26] However, he said that the present Government had no plans to publish any new document, and that he did not believe in "some Government-determined plan"; and he saw no conflict between the Government's emphasis on localism and the need to respond to the challenges outlined in the Foresight report.[27]


28.  We are concerned that the Minister's emphasis on "getting on with developing and delivering policies"[28] could lead to Government policy-making which is fragmented, and fails to join up the dots into a coherent whole. If the Government are serious about raising agricultural productivity through sustainable intensification, they need to be clear what this means for farm enterprises of different sizes and in differing agricultural sectors, and how it should be taken forward.

29.  Similarly, to ensure that a strategic approach is properly informed, the Government need to be clear how progress towards sustainable intensification should be measured and monitored over time. We recommend that the Government should define a clear set of widely agreed indicators to measure progress over time towards increased agricultural production and reduced environmental impact. These must be monitored by an independent expert committee.

30.  The view of the Commission was expressed by Mr Häusler. He told us that "if each Member State has its own food strategy, we have completely failed. Many might question whether there is any value added in the European Union, but here there is. We have to develop a strategy; we do not have it yet."[29] We welcome this commitment, though its delivery will depend on the Commission's ability to overcome the lack of coherence which has in the past been demonstrated by different policies affecting the farming sector. We suggest that, at the EU level, a food strategy should underpin the Common Agricultural Policy.

31.  In our April 2011 report on the "EU Financial Framework from 2014",[30] we looked at the role which the CAP from 2014 might play in delivering the "sustainable growth" policy priority of the Europe 2020 strategy. We recommended that the CAP's share of the EU budget should be reduced, and part of it transferred to R&D spending, to strengthen the research efforts targeting the new challenges to agriculture: global food security, bio-diversity protection and climate change. We called for the remaining CAP budget to support a CAP that was re-oriented towards meeting these challenges; this would require greater efficiency, and in turn pointed to the need for sustainable innovation to be an essential component running through the CAP. We return to these concerns later in this report.

32.  We have noted the lack of a strategic approach at the EU and UK levels. We conclude that national and EU level strategies for food production should underpin successful innovation. Without such strategies, conflicting priorities, between national government departments and within the European Commission, will inevitably act as obstacles to effective innovation. Strategies must be sensitive to the diversity of EU farming and food production systems, and should be framed within EU guidelines. They should be developed "bottom-up", not imposed "top-down". Local ownership and implementation are essential.

12   Q 643 Back

13   Op. cit. Back

14   Executive Summary, section 2 Back

15  Back

16   Op. cit. Back

17   Q 662 Back

18   COM(2011)112  Back

19   Ibid, section 3-raising land use productivity sustainably Back

20   A "public good" is an established economic concept. It refers to a good which is valued by society but which will not be delivered by the market because there is little incentive for individuals to either pay for them or supply them. This is partly because, by their nature, the availability of agricultural public goods, such as biodiversity, a landscape or carbon sequestration from that landscape, cannot generally be restricted to one or more individuals willing to pay for access (unless paying for access to a national park, for example). Where the market will not deliver those goods, and there is desire for them, the market failure then needs to be addressed by public policy.  Back

21   COM(2010)235 Back

22   Garden and park waste, food and kitchen waste from households, restaurants, caterers and retail premises as well as comparable waste from food processing plants. Back

23   IEUA 25, para. 2(2) Back

24   Q 511 Back

25   Q 447 Back

26   Q 674 Back

27   Q 675 Back

28   Ibid  Back

29   Q 534 Back

30   Op. cit.  Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011