Strategic autonomy and food security and sustainability (own-initiative opinion)

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Key points

  • The EESC proposes a definition of open strategic autonomy applied to food systems based on food production, workforce and fair trade, with the overarching aim of ensuring food security and sustainability for all EU citizens through a fair, healthy, sustainable and resilient food supply.
  • In particular, EU food systems should be more diversified; the agricultural workforce should be strengthened especially by attracting young people and ensuring decent working conditions and remuneration; trade policies should be aligned with EU food sustainability standards and competitiveness.
  • Open strategic autonomy and the sustainability of food systems are best guaranteed by developing a tool box that includes risk management measures to help food supply chains to deal with extreme situations and national and EU authorities to take immediate actions.
  • Recent events caused by COVID-19, extreme weather due to climate disruption and cyber attacks demonstrate the need to improve the resilience and sustainability of food systems. Within the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy, the European Commission (EC) is developing an EU contingency plan for food supply and food security and an associated EU food crisis response mechanism. This should help increase the awareness of risks and include the identification, assessment, mapping and monitoring of key risks through the stress-testing of critical systems at EU and Member State level and help to implement measures which will solve the faced problems.
  • The EU needs a system to prevent events like power and network failures or cyber attacks cascading out of control due to dependencies. For example: a city that needs to be under lockdown for several weeks, a power failure that lasts for several days, a food company or retailer being cyber-attacked.
  • In order to improve the coping mechanisms, there is a need to develop existing food systems and at the same time diversify food systems, including business models for farm shops, urban farming, vertical farming and the "local-for-local" approach in general. This requires a wider application of research and innovation by farmers and growers and should help minimise the risks of "food deserts" and production specialisation. At the same time, the advantages of the efficient distribution system from farms to processing and markets should be strengthened.
  • To ensure the long-term production of sufficient and healthy food and viable livelihoods it is important that natural resources are used in a sustainable way, preserving soil and water resources, combating climate change and biodiversity losses and protecting animal welfare. The EU should also strengthen local and regional production to combine well balanced food production and food processing with low carbon foot print.
  • The CAP plays a vital economic, social and environmental role. It should stabilise markets during crises while providing a safety net for farmers and processors protecting the environment, the climate, workforce and animal welfare. The CAP plays a role in maintaining the strategic production capacity, food safety and security.
  • Farms and fertile agricultural land and water are strategic assets and must be protected up to a certain level across the EU: they constitute the backbone of our open strategic food autonomy.
  • The EESC reiterates its recommendation to explore the option of a multi-stakeholder and multi-level European Food Policy Council. In the context of open strategic autonomy, such a Council could play, inter alia, a monitoring role and help evaluate and anticipate the risks in the food supply chain.
  • The EU needs to ensure that borders are kept safely open and that workforce together with logistics are kept going for food production and distribution ("green lanes") both within the EU and towards third countries. This requires a strong mechanism of coordination between the Member States, the EC and third countries.