HIGH-QUALITY food production and fostering vibrant rural communities were at the top of the agenda at the Informal Farm Council just outside the Austrian capital at the end of September, with the majority of delegations voicing support for a robust rural development policy in the EU’s farm policy.
Gathering at the impressive Schloss Hof near the Slovak border, Ministers highlighted the need for an adequate budget to preserve the rural fabric and provide stability for farmers, with a number of delegations, including Ireland’s Michael Creed emerging the most vocal in opposition to rural development cuts.
Kicking off just after 10am (until around 12.30pm), the majority of Ministers intervened in the roundtable, while Minister Creed issued an impassioned call for an ‘honest debate’ about food production. During his unscripted intervention, he cited FAO figures that indicate output will have to increase by 70% by 2050, urging against the outsourcing of production beyond the EU.
By reducing the overall budget, ‘we are sending the wrong signal to farmers,’ he said, at a time when the farming community is asked to do more for the environment, animal welfare and broader societal needs. In reaction to proposed cuts to the farm budget, the Macroom man quipped that policy-makers were ‘merely re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.’
Unless generational renewal is properly addressed, ‘we are staring in the face … the slow death of agricultural production in the EU,’ the Fine Gael politician elaborated.
Meanwhile, Austria’s celebrity chef Sarah Wiener, who was invited to deliver the keynote speech at the Ministerial gathering, said the current food and farming system was fundamentally flawed and she urged a complete overhaul of food production and consumption patterns.
During her address ‘formal’ plenary on September 25th, the well-known television presenter and entrepreneur said ‘we need to link food to the ground we are standing on,’ lamenting that the current production system is in ‘a race to the bottom, making farmers enemies of other people.’
The 56-year-old author and restaurateur – who fronts her own cookery show Die Kulinarischen Abenteuer der Sarah Wiener – grew up on a farm near Steiermarkhof, where she saw how ‘food was produced, bread baked, vegetables grown and animals slaughtered.’ She said: ‘Over the past 40 years, we have moved so far away from the origins of food compared to the1.5 million years before that. Such an approach cannot be the solution either for Europe or the world.’
She also slammed the highly-processed industrial products available on the shelves, which are a ‘poor copy of good tasty dishes.’
• Rose O’Donovan is editor-in-chief of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS and has been following the evolution of European farm policy for over 10 years.