Quality key to future EU food profitability

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fischer boel, European union, European commission, Common agricultural policy, Mariann fischer boel

Quality will be key to a strong European food sector, agriculture
commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told a Brussels conference on
food quality certification yesterday.

She said that while the world's low-cost agricultural exporters are taking advantage of low costs and land resources, globalisation cuts more than one way.

"In a world of multilateral trade disciplines, openings for others often mean openings for us as well,"​ she said.

"China gives us a good example. In a country with a large population and growing wealth, the potential growth in the market for high-value food and drink is enormous."

Fischer Boel went on to say that the balance of Europe's farm exports already tilts firmly towards items with a high added value rather than basic commodities. From 1999 to 2004, such items made up more than two-thirds of the agricultural exports of the European Union of 15 Member States.

"Of course, not all of these exports were covered by specific quality schemes and labels. But the products concerned are generally products to which it is possible to add particular 'qualities', and certify them."

This, said Fischer Boel, gives the European food sector a solid foundation on which to build.

"In various ways, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been giving growing support to our agri-food sector in its efforts to compete on quality of different kinds. The CAP reforms of 2003 and subsequent years are enormous steps in the right direction."

Indeed, since 2003, there has been a specific chapter on food quality in the EU's rural development regulation. This offers financial incentives for farmers to get involved in European or national schemes which improve product quality and production processes, or which certify product quality for consumers.

There is also money to help the food chain co-operate in developing new products, processes and technologies.

"Policy is making a strong contribution to our efforts to compete through high-quality production,"​ said Fischer Boel.

"But of course, production is only one side of the coin. The other is communication and marketing. We cannot afford to neglect this side."

This, said the commissioner, is where certification comes in. There are already a number of certification and labelling schemes at the European level, and hundreds of schemes have been introduced by local and regional authorities, retailers and the agri-food sector.

"The time is ripe to take a closer look at many aspects of these schemes - to understand more clearly how they work, and to check whether anything can be done to help them work better,"​ said Fischer Boel.

"How much will consumers pay for certified food? Where in the food chain do the schemes add value, and how much? To what extent do farmers and others in the retail chain benefit? And what impact do these schemes have on wider rural development, in terms of tourism, infrastructure and employment?"

Fischer Boel said the sector also needed to find out about the rules under which certification schemes operate in the European Union, how these schemes fit in internationally and what difficulties exist in operating these schemes.

The conference was organised by the European Commission's directorate-general for agriculture and rural development.

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