The European Union is striving for “strategic autonomy” not aiming for full self-sufficiency, when it comes to food security, a leading European Commission representative has said. This statement was made in one of a series of high-level briefings for agri-journalists from across Europe.

The focus, journalists were told, is on having a good balance of trade where agriculture and food production is concerned, with the exception of tropical food, which cannot be easily produced within the EU.

“People want a short supply chain, and want all kinds of food available”, so delivering food security “all over the continent” is crucial, the official stressed.

Over the course of a half-dozen briefings from senior members of the European Commission, the importance of agriculture across all trade negotiations was repeatedly stressed.

Daily briefings from the Trade Commissioner and his negotiating team to their counterparts in the agriculture division take place when negotiations are active.

Some trade deals benefit food exports, like the recent deal with Japan.

At other times, where there is a threat to the agri-food sector, negotiations stall, with the long-drawn out saga of Mercosur given as one example.

PO proportion

It was also stated that the Commission is “surprised” by the proportion of food production that comes from producer organisations (POs).

Recognised producer organisations contribute 10% of the EU’s total output of food, and it is estimated that there are four more producer organisations for every PO formally recognised by the EU.

The Commission official said that there is a limit to how much consumers can pay for food, and that affordable food remains one of the CAP’s key objectives.

Technology could be part of the solution for farmers in terms of maintaining sustainability, but the aging farming population is a barrier to adaptation of some technology on-farm. The “paradox” around gene editing and the CRISPR gene editing tool was acknowledged.

“It’s our job and duty to seek the new genomic techniques, but there is still resistance.”

The lack of a coherent overall measure of what is the most sustainable system of livestock production was acknowledged by another senior Commission official last week.

“What is a sustainable cow?” said the official, acknowledging that there are different measuring systems.

“Is the extensive cow more acceptable than the one in the stable?”

While the cow grazing uplands, as is common practice in countries like Austria and Slovenia, contributes to biodiversity, intensive farming systems are more sustainable according to some measuring systems.

The official also said that counting emissions from farming is also complicated.

“When people count the emissions from farming, they just count the animals. I raise this as an issue, [but] I do not have the answer,” he added.