Across Europe, farmers and consumers are battling two ends of the same crisis - the rising cost of food. Producers have witnessed their overheads skyrocketing, while consumers are confronted with rapidly increasing grocery bills. In basic terms, if food costs more to produce, it will cost more to buy. The EU must act fast if it is to help alleviate the worst impact of this crisis and prevent the situation spiralling out of control.
Russia's illegal and barbaric war against Ukraine, soaring energy costs, a lack of raw materials and increasing inflation have contributed to increased production costs on farms. Russian President Putin's end goal is as cruel as his war against the people of Ukraine – to create global food insecurity and increase the risk of malnutrition and famine in vulnerable parts of the world. Putin's tactic is to apply pressure on the democracies that oppose his aggression, in an attempt to weaken their unity. We cannot allow an autocrat like Putin to hold the world to ransom. That is why it is important that the EU recognises the hardship the situation places on farmers, businesses and consumers and acts to ease that burden where possible.
The scarcity of fertiliser, exacerbated by the energy crisis, drove prices of the vital farming product up by 350 percent last year alone. Limited fertiliser means limited food production and ultimately, more expensive food. It is unsurprising that a recent survey, led by Aarhus University in Denmark, found that 53 percent of European consumers are "strongly worried" about food shortages.
At the time, my EPP Group colleagues and I brought the issue to the floor of the European Parliament and called on the Commission to develop an Action Plan on Fertilisers. We argued that there is an urgent need to tackle current fertiliser shortages in the short term and begin the transition of European agriculture away from its dependency on synthetic fertilisers in the medium to long-term. However, such a transition will take time and will require a comprehensive strategy.
Right now, we urgently need to secure an adequate supply of fertiliser for our farmers. I am calling for the EU to source and coordinate the delivery of fertiliser to member states, so as not to the leave more vulnerable countries behind.
It would also be useful to evaluate importing the raw materials necessary to increase home-grown fertiliser production. The lifting of anti-dumping measures on foreign fertiliser imports should also be assessed. Over the long-term, introducing financial supports to help the transition to more natural farming methods, such as the use of clover and other nitrogen-fixing solutions, could be considered. That might come in the form of an eco-scheme.
In the context of the upcoming review of the EU’s long-term budget (MFF), increasing funds under the Common Agricultural Policy would go some way in reducing the pressure on food prices and ultimately benefit the consumer.
However, it is clear that the Commission must act now to address the unsustainable input costs facing farmers and the rising cost of food. Economic forecasts point to this issue worsening over the coming months, with further increases in costs for farmers in the midst of high inflation. The current high food prices experienced are in no small way due to the impact of high fertiliser costs. In order to avoid further inflationary pressures, positive action is required to restore security of supply to the market.
The cost of food concerns everyone, from farm gate to kitchen table. A comprehensive plan of action at EU level can help stabilise the situation, ensure farming remains viable, and make food more affordable.
By Colm Markey MEP
Note to editors
The EPP Group is the largest political group in the European Parliament with 176 Members from all EU Member States