The need to ensure food security has been lifted higher up the agenda of EU policymakers in recent months, when, prior to the Ukraine crisis, it had not been a priority in discussions on farming and environmental policies, MEP Billy Kelleher has claimed.

Kelleher recognised the importance of reaching the environmental targets set out in the European Green Deal, but said that food supply concerns should be addressed on an ongoing basis, especially in light of uncertainties with Ukrainian grain supplies.

He also argued that in the longer term, financial supports would be needed to ensure that “farmers continue to farm” while making progress on environmental issues.

“When I came out here three years ago, if you spoke about food security, they would literally blank you.

"The Commission would, so would policymakers working over at the Commission on the administrative side when you mention food security,” the Fianna Fáil MEP said on Wednesday.

“Because they never thought that food security would become an issue again because they come a from a mindset of oversupply, oversupply for all those years in the '70s, '80s and '90s.

“This is just a small, little shift in the discussion and the focus around the mass movement towards organic farming and reduced production and fertilisers and pesticides – in the short term anyway,” Kelleher claimed.

Food supply shortages

Commission officials have suggested that Brussels is not currently worried about food supply shortages in the EU, but it has been acknowledged that there is a real possibility of hunger in vulnerable areas of Africa and the Middle East.

The Irish Farmers Journal understands that there has been no modelling done on any potential rationing of the EU’s food reserves in the case of agri-food shortages, as has been the case with the Commission’s consideration of such moves in the case of a critical decrease in energy supply.

Renewable energy

Kelleher has also hit out at the lack of Government engagement with non-wind forms of renewable energy, as he described the development of anaerobic digestion as “lethargic from a policy point of view”.

The Ireland South MEP stated that the Government did not need pilot schemes to assess the feasibility of such projects before investing in them, given their widespread adoption in other EU countries.

“The Government has decided to put all its eggs in the wind generation basket and they have never looked at anaerobic digestion, biomass, [bio]methane production in a real way,” he said.

“It really is down to the fact that there is no tariff, supporting tariff, for energy produced from biomass like there is with wind energy.”

Kelleher’s colleague in the European Parliament Barry Andrews MEP added that policymakers are conscious of any food production trade-offs associated with these land uses.

“There’s also the short-term [concerns] about food security. Using land to grow [crops] for fuel in circumstances where there is still a shortage around the world,” said Andrews, in recognising the potential impacts of biomass energy generation.