Fair prices for both farmers and consumers and truthful and transparent information are essential if the primary sector and consumers are to play their key role in guaranteeing strategic autonomy in European food production. This sovereignty must be in line with the European Green Deal's Farm to Fork strategy, which requires an adjustment of current food policies.
These were the main conclusions of the conference on EU food sovereignty: the role of agriculture, fisheries and consumers, organised by the European Economic and Social Committee's Civil Society Organisations' Group, with the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Minister for the Sea of the Regional Government of Galicia, on 26 September 2023 in the City of Culture of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela.
The president of the Civil Society Organisations' Group, Séamus Boland, said that all Europeans, including producers, distributors and consumers, benefit from a fair, healthy, resilient and sustainable food chain. However, recent global crises have demonstrated the need for European food sovereignty with very high global security standards. Furthermore, he highlighted the importance of collaboration: "The future of the food sector will depend on working together across actors, sectors and policy areas to effectively address and remedy the many challenges. We should aim for inclusive food policies and develop a long-term vision for the EU fishing sector." In his opinion, Europe's food sovereignty will be determined by the decisions of individuals, communities and organised civil society.
The Minister for Rural Affairs, José González Vázquez, considered that agriculture and food are two sides of the same coin. He explained that the Autonomous Government of Galicia believes strongly in the need to foster rural development with productive activity in the primary sector in order to achieve food sovereignty in which the consumers have full power over decision-making and control and we achieve decent standards for the food industry and, above all, for our producers.
In the closing session of the conference, the Minister for the Sea, Alfonso Villares Bermúdez, highlighted the need for campaigns to promote the consumption of fish and seafood such as those launched by the regional government. Actions, he emphasised, which are necessary to reverse the fall in consumption caused by inflation in the current complex economic scenario. He also stressed that, to encourage people to consume seafood again, it is also key to reduce VAT from 10% to 4% to bring it into line with the tax rate of other EU countries.
Various speakers, representing agriculture, livestock, fishing, consumers and other sectors, such as environment protection, debated ways to address the current and future challenges of European food production. The debates focused on the perspectives of Spanish civil society, the perspective of institutions and possible solutions at EU level.
Participants agreed on the need for European food sovereignty in the face of current and future crises such as COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, supply bottlenecks and ongoing inflation. They called for measures to ease the financial pressure on households, especially the most vulnerable ones, while promoting a more balanced, healthy diet. They furthermore observed greater awareness of the value of food and greater demand for local products.
Several representatives of the primary sector called for support measures to address the multiple crises and the transition to a more sustainable economy. Furthermore, they warned that the current lack of political responses to the delicate situation of many companies in the sector could end up seriously affecting other sectors of the economy. While showing a commitment to environmental protection, they noted that this cannot be achieved without sustainable economic and social development. The importance of family farming for the future of food systems and sustainable food production was highlighted. At the same time, it was emphasised that food sovereignty is the basis for ensuring the existence of family farms and maintaining the population in rural areas. Consequently, participants called for fair prices for farmers and consumers.
In addition, the participants' proposals included:
- creating protection rules for the fishing sector to avoid social and environmental dumping of imports;
- promoting structural change in the European Commission. Specifically, the appointment of a Commissioner who is solely in charge of fisheries, with a strong focus on food security.
Various representatives of consumer associations reiterated that food is not just consumption, but also part of culture and identity. In addition to consumers purchasing decisions and commitments, multifaceted systemic change was needed – including in the agricultural sector – to obtain a balanced and sustainable market that guarantees food affordability and security for all. The participants considered information for consumers the key to for food sovereignty. The origin of the products on the market should be clear, truthful and transparent.
Within the framework of the conference, which was organised in the context of the current Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU, the photographic exhibition Mariscadoras by the Galician artist Adrián Baúlde was inaugurated. The exhibition pays tribute to shellfish gatherers and their role in the local food system. The Civil Society Organisations' Group organised the exhibition in collaboration with the City of Culture of Galicia. The exhibition complements and supports the work carried out by the EESC on resilient and sustainable European food systems. Its content and profile promotes Spanish culture and supports the younger generation of artists in the country. The exhibition is housed by the CINC building in the City of Culture of Galicia and runs until 2 October 2023. Entrance is free.