The outlook opinion was prepared by the Committee of the Regions (CoR) at the request of Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş as part of his consultation on the future of the CAP, and adopted in plenary at the European Parliament yesterday.
Rapporteur Lenie Dwarshuis-van de Beek (NL/ALDE) said there is a “skewed balance of power in the agricultural and food sectors which is putting the survival of agriculture at risk”. Around 80 per cent of world food production is sold locally, but in Europe that figure is just 20 per cent because of the focus on large-scale, industrialised food production. Systems that would improve the negotiating powers of farmers, such as short distribution circuits, are seen as welcome.
However she told FoodNavigator.com after the vote that the intention is not to increase the percentage of local food, but to professionalise local food systems and make it easier for consumers to identify local produce.
“It is my opinion that consumers should have a choice. If in a supermarket they see apples from New Zealand and local apples, they should be informed so they can choose.
“I do not propose to replace industrial agriculture. It’s not either-or but and-and.”
A local logo for Europe
In her outlook opinion Dwarshuis suggested introducing a local food logo that could be used on produce sold within a certain radius of the place of production on a voluntary basis, and alongside any local marks.
Shortening of supply chains would put producers into closer contact with consumers, with local produce sold in farm shops and markets. Agreements may be forged between producers and local supermarkets, including branches of national chains, but produce identified by the local label could not be distributed via retailers’ national buying departments. This means that if a producer was selling both locally and nationally they would need to use two sets of packaging.
The opinion also calls for a definition of ‘local food products’ and ‘local food systems’. The distance from production to consumption is a crucial point, with 30 to 50 km mooted as an appropriate maximum. There would need to be flexibility, however, as in some parts of Europe, such as mountainous regions, producers will find few consumers within a 50km radius.
The benefits for rural development in supporting local food systems include economic gains, as shorter chains between producers and consumers would promote local jobs and help businesses gain a larger market.
But there are also social gains as more interaction with consumers means producers can react to consumer demands. It could regenerate interest in traditional varieties of fruits and vegetables that can flourish in particular regions but are not familiar fixtures on the shelves of national supermarket chains, preventing them from dying out and aiding biodiversity.
The shorter distance produce would travel from producer to consumer – fewer ‘food miles’ – would mean fewer emissions and would help Europe on its way to meeting climate change goals.
Dwarshuis’ suggestions would require some monitoring and coordination. An online database for registered products could be established by the European Rural Development Network. A regional commission would ideally be responsible for evaluating requirements for accessing the local product quality scheme, providing technical assistance and information, and carrying out audits and inspections.
In addition, planning authorities would play a role in ensuring there are suitable outlets for local product. Dwarshuis told FoodNavigator.com that many of the local food systems investigated in preparation of the opinion were in peri-urban settings, where opportunities for producers to sell directly to consumers may be limited to stalls at the side of the road rather than traditional food markets.
Local food systems could also be a springboard or incubator for foods eventually be registered under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG), or Organic Farming (OF) schemes.
The outlook opinion was adopted by the Parliament almost unanimously – with just one vote against. Commissioner Cioloş will now take it into account while preparing his package on CAP reform.
Speaking before the vote Commissioner Cioloş called the opinion “very useful and very interesting”. Dwarshuis is optimistic that some elements in the opinion will be taken on board because the CoR was asked for its opinion before the CAP reform package is drawn up – rather than in response to it.
She will be lobbying keenly for the inclusion of as may of her suggestions as possible once Commissioner Cioloş’ draft proposals have been drawn up.