World Food Day Highlights Flaws, Opportunities in European Food Security

Europe's Food Security: Challenges & Solutions. Explore food waste, loss, and the path to resilient systems.

Oct 16, 2023
Two people hold a basket full of freshly harvested tomatoes

Following up from the International Day of Awareness for Food Loss and Waste on September 27, the World Food Day on October 16 highlights the importance of building resilient food systems capable of supporting future generations - but what exactly does that mean within a European context?

Simply put, food security refers to a population’s access to affordable nutritious food - protein, fruits, vegetables, cereals. This is usually achieved through strong, diversified agricultural production and supply chains which are able to cater to the consumption of local communities.

European Food (In)Security

Outside of conflicts, Europe has enjoyed relatively high food security throughout its Member States and their domestic output. France and Germany are two of the world’s largest wheat producers - Europe ranks second globally as a unified entity, and third in beef production - while Spain and Italy enter top global rankings in fruit and vegetable production. Europe’s agricultural industry has helped support the Bloc’s growing population and secured access to quality food products. Without taking into account the downstream industries it supports, the Union’s agricultural industry alone created an estimated gross value added of €222.3 billion in 2022 according to the European Commission, roughly 1.4% of total GDP.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) considers Europe to be one of the most secure food regions alongside North America. Yet, in its 2022 report it notes a creeping increase in food insecurity for the second consecutive year. With 89 million people suffering from food security in Europe and North America compared to 2.3 billion people globally, the FAO highlights the difference in circumstances - but how can one of the world’s largest and secure food producers see citizens in a position of food insecurity?

“In January 2022, annual inflation in the euro area reached 5.1 %, up from 0.9 % in January 2021, and basic products such as bread became more expensive for EU consumers,” explains  Antonio Albaladejo Román for the European Parliamentary Research Service. The war in Ukraine added to the pressure, but was not the cause of rising food insecurity in Europe and abroad.

“While the availability of food is not at stake in Europe today, the affordability of food is a growing concern for an increasing number of low-income households,” confirms a 2023 analysis by the EU Commission, which notes that socio-economic pressures affecting consumers are only being compounded by a range of other factors including land degradation, decrease in producers, climate change, and  pollution affecting supply chains and contributing to price increases. “There is an inherent urgency to act. In an uncertain and volatile context, the transition to a sustainable food system should continue to guide the EU’s political, policy, and programme action,” the analysis’ authors conclude, pointing to initiatives such as the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork as key long-term sustainable food security and affordability measures.

Read more about how the State of the European Union speech Underplayed Climate Crisis and the Green Deal Future

Action on Food Waste & Loss

While any action on climate change will have an effect on food security, there are solutions that can and must be carried out directly within our own food systems. The global population surpassed 8 billion people in 2022, with almost 10% of them living in the European Union. Taking into account that over a quarter of the global population is food insecure, the immediate thought is that not enough food is produced, yet the opposite is true. Current global food production is enough to feed over 10 billion people - the issue is one of food waste, loss, inefficient supply chain and overconsumption.

Waste and loss refer to two different processes. Food waste tends to occur between the producer and retailer through damage, discard, or unwanted aesthetics, while food loss is specific to retail and post-purchase stages, such as non consumption of bought produce, or discarded due to ‘use by’ date. The FAO believes a third of food produced is lost or wasted, with 14% of all food lost post-harvest through supply chain issues. In Europe, over 58 million tonnes of food loss (131 kg/inhabitant) are generated annually - a large amount, contrasted by the mounting food insecurity within the Bloc’s borders. Tightening up supply chains and relevant policies can see food waste and loss reduced while increasing overall food security - here again, the Green Deal and Farm to Fork policies will be tackling these issues alongside the Union’s circular economy initiatives, but more can also be done at a consumer level to reduce waste.

Looking to the Future

“Food-related instability has three main drivers: climate change, conflict over natural resources, and economic shocks,” write Chase Sova and Eilish Zimbilci for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “The impact of climate change on food systems is driving conflict around the world,” they note, highlighting the political instability intertwined with a lack of food and water security in Africa, South America, and Asia. The European Union, while far from being in a similar situation, should not be complacent, the intertwined nature of global socio-economic systems means issues like food insecurity in different parts of the world will eventually have an effect elsewhere.

Europe must continue to play a role in improving food security outside of its borders, but back-to-back years of rising food insecurity highlight flaws in the system, and as a major exporter of food aid, the Bloc must look to future-proof its agricultural sector, supply chains, and related industries. The solution to improving food security is not simple, as the Commission’s analysis admitted, “[This] highlights the complexity of any debate about food security: it is not a matter of prioritising one driver over another, rather it is important to understand the short- and long-term dimensions of the drivers and their interlinkages.”

The best way forward is ensuring that European leadership continues to work on building resilient systems, and implementing comprehensive sustainable solutions across the economy. The 2024 European Election will be happening from June 6th-9th, find out more about Volt’s pan-European vision for strong, sustainable action.

Article by Vincent Diringer