Food security in Europe is deteriorating under policies targeting farmers. Is Canada listening?

Sylvain CharleboisEuropean politics are notoriously intricate, and the recent EU elections have highlighted a growing fatigue in the West towards socialist and urban-centric policies that impact agriculture and the agri-food sectors. Following months of farmer protests across Europe, the Green Party, previously the fourth most significant party, lost 19 seats and has now slipped to the sixth position in the EU Parliament in Brussels.

Pro-farming parties now hold more seats than the Greens. This shift suggests that Europeans are increasingly eager for Europe to compete against China and the United States to bolster its economy.

The political upheaval was particularly pronounced in France, Europe’s largest country after Germany. French President Emmanuel Macron has called for snap elections for the National Assembly, and Belgium’s President has resigned. Germany is experiencing similar turbulence, with the Social Democrats being relegated to a lower ranking.

The farmers’ revolt, which peaked in January and February of 2024 and has affected most EU member states, is fueled by escalating production costs, foreign competition, declining incomes, environmental restrictions, and onerous administrative procedures. In essence, Europe is undergoing significant turmoil, and it seems farmers’ voices are finally being heard.

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Europe's agricultural uprising is a warning for Canada

From a food security standpoint, the situation in Europe is deteriorating. Extreme agricultural policies that empower the state to control farming have rendered Europe less food secure. The results of the EU election will have a profound impact on the continent’s future food security. Farmers have been burdened by bureaucratic policies and restrictive regulations dictating what and how they can produce. Government oversight has reached extremes, with satellite images used to monitor compliance with allowed crops and field activities, triggering automatic notifications if discrepancies are detected. This level of state control is unprecedented.

Even before the election, the EU Parliament was under pressure. Facing mounting tension, several environmental regulations, including pesticide rules, were either diluted or repealed. This relaxation of green objectives may indicate a broader trend with the new parliament, which could be seen as a positive development.

We have witnessed a significant shift in European regulatory approaches, causing the continent to retreat from exports and focus on self-sufficiency. For instance, Europe’s pork production, one of the world’s most popular animal proteins, is down by three million metric tons from 2021, representing 25 percent of the U.S.’ entire pork production. Grain production is also languishing, making it increasingly challenging to feed livestock.

The EU projects that overall cereal production this season will be 4.3 percent below the five-year average, not only due to adverse weather conditions but also because farmers feel unsupported and lack incentives. Europe’s struggles have created opportunities for American producers, who are now targeting markets like Korea, previously served by Europe. Brazil has also capitalized on Europe’s challenges, and Canada should follow suit.

While the U.S. views Europe’s self-inflicted food insecurity as a chance to expand its market reach, Canada is enamoured with European-style, urban-centric agri-food policies. The EU’s experience is a critical case study for Canada on what not to do.

Undermining farmers and disregarding their expertise is reckless and perilous for citizens and the economy. Restoring dignity to farming in Canada is imperative.

For effective environmental stewardship, governments must prioritize farmers’ insights. Their expertise is invaluable, surpassing that of vocal NGOs and federally funded entities like the Canadian Climate Institute or the Smart Prosperity Institute. These organizations have received over $51 million to promote the federal government’s environmental policies, often to the detriment of farming communities.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

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