Several European markets are characterised by oversupply and low farmer prices, with society and policy makers discussing sustainability, environment, the relation between food and health and ethical topics, such as animal welfare and food waste. In addition, current value chains are under pressure and new structures are upcoming. These developments raise the question whether agricultural policy should develop into a food policy and how such a policy should regulate the retail and food industry and its increasing control over agriculture and its responsibility for healthy diets.
Global food and nutrition security
Food is plentiful and affordable to most European consumers. For the last fifty years the European agricultural policy has been instrumental in reaching this objective. And although the global food and nutrition security situation is far from satisfactory, several European markets are characterised by a tendency of oversupply and low prices for farmers.
Sustainability of food production
Society and policy makers are nowadays confronted with many other aspects of food than its availability. First, there is the sustainability of food production and consumption. Besides environmental issues (nitrate, water, climate change, biodiversity) this concerns ethical issues such as animal welfare and the issue of food waste.
Food emerging issues
Second, there are emerging issues in the relation between food and health. Traditionally this focused on food-borne illness (food safety) and zoonosis, but in recent years diet related diseases like obesity received much attention. In the coming years neuro-science could provide more insights into our eating behaviour and the effects on food in the human body. It could lead to novel foods. And this will intensify the debate on whether the government should ‘nudge’ the consumer into better behaviour.
Third, there is the impact of concentration and integration in value chains. Many retailers and food processors work in several countries; there are even about fifty farmers' cooperatives that have members in more than one member state. Farm production is often certified. NGOs that care for environmental or ethical issues have gained influence. The need for a 'fair' and more inclusive system, be it for farmers, working conditions of farm workers or for consumers, leads to issues in competition policy and new aspects in agricultural policy such as support for producer organisations and limiting the supply of PDO/PGI products. New developments in ICT (such as the internet of things) will affect the organization of the food chain in the years to come and lead to more transparency and more options for short supply chains.
Regulate food industry
These developments raise the question whether agricultural policy should develop into a food policy and how such a policy should regulate the retail and food industry and its increasing control over agriculture and its responsibility for healthy diets. What would be the optimal institutional arrangements between public authorities (at EU or member state level), agri-business (including farming) and civil society?
Changes in food chain
In the last years (political) discussion on changes in the food chain and market power issues have intensified. At the same time healthy diets and healthy aging have been recognised as societal challenges. Several cities (e.g. London, Amsterdam) have formulated food policies and there is much attention to more regional food and short supply chains. ICT is seen as one of the game changers that could reconfigure food chains.
From agricultural to food policy
Governments have been challenged to formulate at least aspects of a food policy, from labelling and school fruit programmes to specific clauses in competition policy. Some experiment with fat or sugar taxes. Behavioural economists have delivered new concepts and approaches for governments, also leading to discussions on consumer sovereignty. In the Netherlands, the Scientific Council for Government Policy has argued that the government should move from an agricultural policy to a food policy, target other players than farmers in the food chain and increase policy coherence between different policies that affect agriculture and the food chain.