13 November 2021, Brussels: Following the COVID-19 crisis and as announced in the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU intends to step up coordination at European level to ensure citizens do not face food shortages during crises. The contingency plan adopted today acknowledges the overall resilience of the EU food supply chain, identifies existing shortcomings, and puts forward actions to improve preparedness at EU level. To do this, the Commission will establish a European Food Security Crisis preparedness and response Mechanism (EFSCM), a group of food supply chain experts coordinated by the Commission to exchange data, practices and strengthen coordination.
Lessons learnt from the COVID-19 crisis
The COVID-19 crisis has shown the resilience of the agricultural, fisheries, aquaculture, and food sectors, avoiding that the health crisis also resulted in a food security crisis. To support these sectors, the EU took exceptional measures.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), for instance, provided tools to counter market imbalances or producers’ cash flow issues. Furthermore, to ensure the movement of goods and of essential workers in the single market, the Commission established green lanes and published guidelines that enabled close coordination between Member States for smooth border crossings.
Today’s Communication acknowledges that further improvement is needed in some areas to continue to ensure food supply and food security in times of crisis.
The EU contingency plan for food supply and food security
With the growing impact of climate change and environmental degradation on food production, as well as risks related to public health, cyber threats or geopolitical shifts threatening the functioning of the food supply chain, an EU contingency plan for food supply and food security is ever more relevant.
Key to improving EU preparedness, this contingency plan embraces a collaborative approach between all public and private parties being part of the food supply chain. From the private sector, this includes farmers, fishers, aquaculture producers, food processors, traders and retailers as well as transporters and logisticians for instance. EU, national and regional authorities will also be central to this plan.
The plan itself will be rolled out by the European Food Security Crisis preparedness and response Mechanism, to be launched by the Commission.
The EFSCM will rely on a group of experts, combining Member States and some non-EU countries representatives and actors from all stages of the food chain, and a set of rules of procedures governing its functioning. The group will meet periodically, and in the event of a crisis, at very short notice and as frequently as necessary.
It will focus on specific activities and a set of actions to be completed between mid-2022 and 2024:
- foresight, risk assessment and monitoring: improve preparedness by making use of available data (including on weather, climate, markets); further analysis of vulnerabilities and critical infrastructure of the food supply chain;
- coordination, cooperation and communication: sharing information, best practices, national contingency plans; development of recommendations to address crises; coordination and cooperation with the international community.
In May 2020, the Commission adopted the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies. These two mutually reinforcing strategies were presented as core parts of the European Green Deal to enable the transition to sustainable food systems and to tackle the key drivers of biodiversity loss.
The Farm to Fork Strategy announced several important initiatives, including the contingency plan for ensuring food supply and food security in times of crisis and the adoption, by end of 2023, of a framework legislation for sustainable food systems, to further accelerate the transition towards a sustainable food system.
Members of the College said
Janusz Wojciechowski, Commissioner in charge of Agriculture, said: “Our food supply chain showed strong resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no food shortages for our citizens, avoiding a food crisis on top of the health one. This is also thanks to our Common Agricultural Policy. In times with evolving risk factors, we need to be prepared for future crises that could affect food supply and food security. Food security will continue to be at the core of our policies. It is paramount to make our food systems more resilient and more sustainable. The contingency plan presented today ensures the EU preparedness and a thorough coordination between the EU, Member States and the public and private sectors to avoid unilateral decisions and a more effective crisis management.”
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner in charge of Health and Food Safety, said: “The Farm to Fork Strategy is our compass towards a resilient and sustainable food system that can deliver in all circumstances. The EU’s extraordinary response to the COVID-19 pandemic shows us that coordination between all Member States, the EU institutions and key stakeholders is crucial to tackle emergency situations. Today’s contingency plan will help us to be better prepared and ensure food supply and security in times of crises. Our health is linked to the availability and quality of the food we eat, and our food systems cannot be resilient to crises such COVID-19 if they are not sustainable.”
Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said: “The pandemic tested the resilience of our food supply chain, and we saw that our policies and legislative framework are solid. Yet we also saw where the vulnerabilities are and that there is scope to enhance the preparedness of our food system to withstand pressures from external factors and risks. Our fishing and aquaculture sector has to cope with a certain level of dependencies and vulnerabilities linked to the supply and retail shocks for example. The contingency plan adopted today ensures that we are ready to address potential shocks, while continuing the supply of sustainable seafood to consumers.”