Science - March 30, 2011

No panic over food shortage in Europe

Joris Tielens

A volcanic eruption or an animal disease can badly hit the European agriculture sector too, says a report this week. But there is no reason to panic, says Rudy Rabbinge, and the proposed measures are not necessary.

A volcanic eruption, a serious drought, an animal disease or an import stop of soya from Latin America can hit the European agriculture sector badly and affect the amount of food available in Europe. Last Monday, Wouter van der Weijden of the Platform for Agriculture, Innovation and Society presented an alarming report about the consequences for food security during such calamities. The magnitude of the consequences, according to him, has been underestimated. Europeans probably wouldn't die of hunger, admits Van der Weijden, but Europe is not sufficiently prepared for these situations; therefore, state secretary Bleker should do something about this. How real are the risks and are the proposals justified?
Rudy Rabbinge, professor in Wageningen University:
'There isn't any reason for worry or cause for alarm, although it is good that such analyses are done regularly. But the proposed measures are not necessary. One of these is to maintain more fallow land which can be used to raise food production when a crisis happens. But the costs of such a measure are out of proportion to the risks which such calamities would bring. The maintenance of huge stocks of soya to sustain livestock in the event of an import stop is also not necessary. It's good to have food strategically stocked up, but it's an illusion that prizes can be stabilized. Even planting more albuminous crops to reduce the dependence on soya imports should only be done if it is profitable, which is not so at present. Europe should not try to increase its own protein production artificially with, for example, import tariffs on soya, as proposed in the report. We should be able to rely on market forces.'