Europe needs to end the “monopolistic control of food production” by primarily large multinational fertiliser companies, President of Ireland Michael D Higgins has warned.

President Higgins made the comment while urging EU leaders to focus more on food security at a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday.

He said the European Union (EU) needs to address the structural factors contributing to food insecurity, both within the union and globally, and that it should do so from a human rights-based perspective, dealing with issues such as debt and the distribution of food staples.

Referring to the rising cost of food in Europe and a looming famine in the Horn of Africa, President Higgins said “surely the most important right which any of us must have is the right to be free from starvation” and that “undoubtedly, the biggest security threat facing us is hunger”.

“Yet, today we find ourselves, once more, in the position of another grave hunger crisis, one of cataclysmic proportions,” he highlighted.

Exacerbating conflict

Speaking on behalf of the people of Ireland, President Higgins said “food insecurity is contributing to, and exacerbating, conflict”.

“It is a moral choice between tolerating monopolistic economics at international level and the right to survive. Our world must address issues of sufficiency in a different and sustainable way.

“We need to commit to what might be a wider definition of comprehensive security in Europe and thus constitute a European step towards a universal human rights-based approach to security, a security that includes the rights to live free from food insecurity and all of the rights of participation,” he said.

Global famines

President Higgins said each time people in an area such as the Horn of Africa face “horrific, preventable scenes of famine and severe malnutrition”, the world will say “never again”.

However, insisting more action is required, he said: “We as a global community have the capacity to anticipate and prevent regional and global famines, giving meaning to the words ‘never again’.”