Politicians must end “cynical games” over EU nature restoration law

WRITING together in Euronews, Olivier De Schutter, Co-Chair of IPES Food, and Emile Frison, an IPES Food Panel Expert, said “The European People’s Party (EPP) Group is wrong. The EU’s Nature Restoration Law won’t lead to a ‘global famine’. It’s time politicians abandon these cynical games and tackle the challenges we are facing.”

The EPP recently walked out of negotiations on the EU Nature Restoration Law, but before doing so they shared what the writers call “a rather dramatic list of problems with the European Commission’s proposal”.

Tweets on the group’s social media feed claimed that the proposed law would lead to “increased food prices” and “even a global famine”.

De Schutter and Frison say “As the European Parliament prepares to vote on the law [tomorrow], we need a reality check – and an end to scaremongering around [the Nature Restoration Law] and the EU’s Farm2Fork strategy.”

“The reality today is that the world already produces more than enough food to feed a growing population, according to UN data.

“Indeed for the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of population growth.

“But unlike what voices for ever-more intensification claim, this hasn’t stopped rising hunger.

“Rising hunger has little to do with levels of production — and everything to do with where that food goes and doesn’t go.

“Around a third of the food we produce is thrown away or left to rot.”

The writers point out that “A vast majority of the world’s calories are used to feed animals – livestock takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land (factoring in feed) while producing less than 20% of the calories. And around one-tenth of all grain is turned into biofuel. Growing more food to direct to any of these ends will do nothing to reduce hunger or famine.”

This simple fact helps to explain “why, after the invasion of Ukraine, even as global diplomatic efforts succeeded in getting Ukrainian grain flowing again and emergency measures enabled the planting of fallow land set aside for nature protection, food price inflation still remains stubbornly above 5%, and queues for food banks are no shorter.”

Most of the extra production was used to grow animal fodder while at the same time rising supermarket prices were connected far more to profiteering than to environmental regulation.

“We have to be honest about the situation. Never has our food system been so industrialised, chemically intensive, and global.

“Yet it has resulted in three food price crises in 15 years. And progress on global hunger is in reverse — thanks to volatile speculation-prone commodity markets and a debt crisis that is bankrupting countries and preventing them from tackling hunger.

“It has long been known that the problem of hunger is one of distribution and poverty — but Big Food lobbyists continue to claim the contrary. The “feed the world” advocates of the EPP are missing the forest for the trees.”

The IPES writers say that “The biggest risk to food production of all is climate change and the current industrial model that is decimating nature and making it harder to sustain necessary levels of production in the long term.

“Climate change wiped nearly 10% off EU yields for some crops last year – and is already ravaging farm incomes on a regular basis. Just last month, Italy experienced devastating floods destroying swathes of its agricultural heartland.

“Spain and Portugal, toiling under one of the worst droughts in recent history, have requested the activation of the European Food Security Crisis Preparedness and Response Mechanism for the first time ever because their food security is at risk.”

“We know that soil degradation, chemical contamination, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss are putting crop yields at risk — and that industrial farming is a primary cause.”

De Schutter and Frison say that “European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans is right when he says that food cannot grow “when the soil is dead and that there are crop failures due to drought”.

“Farmers, the backbone of our food systems, are being hit hard by both economic and climate instability. They face price volatility, both for the inputs they buy and for the products they sell.

“Though giant agri-food corporations are reaping record profits these past two years, farmers are as much victims of the boom-bust cycle of food markets as consumers — where price surges lead farmers into overproduction, prompting farm gate prices to suddenly fall. Farmers in some EU countries have even been protesting as they sit on large quantities of unsold commodities.

“We can’t go on like this,” say the writers. “If MEPs are serious about feeding the world, they should jump at the opportunity that the Nature Protection Law and the Farm2Fork present. [They will] put us on a path to a more sustainable food system, help reduce waste and put more power in the hands of farmers and communities.

“[They] will also do this while restoring our natural world, increasing biodiversity, and making everyone’s quality of life better.

“Failure to take action now will leave Europe confronting a future of climate disaster, decimated biodiversity and water scarcity, with no tools in the box.

“It’s time politicians abandon these cynical games and tackle the challenges we are facing seriously.”

Olivier De Schutter is co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and Emile Frison is the former director general of Biodiversity International and an IPES-Food panel expert.

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