The strengths and weaknesses of the proposed fund: the new European Aid Fund for the Most Deprived, although broader in scope, is no replacement for full-fledged policies on food and nutrition poverty.
On 25 October 2012, the European Commission released its proposal for a new Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD). The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) welcomes the Commission’s renewed efforts to broaden the scope of the programme beyond emergency food provision to also include clothing and essentials to Europe’s homeless and most-deprived children. Yet, EPHA calls for the proposal to include objectives like improved nutritional profile of foods, fight against non-communicable diseases (1) and health inequalities reduction. EPHA is also concerned that this scheme could displace other overarching solutions to poverty that address the underlying causes of poverty in a more sustainable fashion, and that the funds earmarked fall short of the urgency of the current situation.
Europe has 80 million people at risk of poverty and social exclusion (according to the Commission’s estimates - NGOs put the figure at 115 million). What’s more, 27 percent of all EU children are already at risk of poverty and 43 million people suffer from food poverty.
A successor to the DG Agriculture’s governed "Food Aid to the Most Deprived", this newly proposed fund will fall under the responsibility of DG Employment - a step that EPHA believes would help boost the fund’s supply of higher nutritional value, and less processed cheap agricultural foodstuff provided so far. From a social justice and poverty reduction perspective, good health of all Europeans - supported by healthy and nutritious diets - is to contribute to Europe’s so much needed recovery.
Unlike the previous 100% funded food aid, Member States have now to cover 15% of the programme’s costs, what might be problematic for many countries currently facing severe cuts to essential social and public health services. A welcome step towards overcoming this obstacle is certainly a proposal to cover for 100% expenses of specific, recession-driven EU MS.
However, the funds food-focus should be taken a closer look at. Soaring prices of healthy food like fruits and vegetables, coupled with rising inequalities in access to food, are pushing more people in the EU into food and nutrition insecurity. Increasing numbers of people cross the poverty line everyday for the very first time in their lives – including in high-income countries like Sweden, the Netherlands or Denmark. Such a situation puts the onus on governments’ ability to provide for people in need of essentials like healthy and nutritious food.
Although the previous scheme made a difference for millions of children, disadvantage families, elderly and unemployed across the EU, emergency food aid is not a sustainable answer to food and nutrition poverty and insecurity. What we need in the first place is solutions that improve access to healthy foods for Europe’s poor while addressing long-term shortcomings. Improving this scheme will require building bridges between social, agriculture and health policies. Obviously, the poor, homeless and materially-deprived children also need support with clothing - a move wholeheartedly supported by EPHA, but now we see that suddenly the fund will have to provide for more with less, and the health-dimension of the food element of it did not significantly change although organisations like EPHA have been asking for that for years.
Although the 2008 revision of the previous scheme (3) included some improvements of nutritional profile, the eligible products were still of a low health-promoting value (like preserved fruit and tinned tuna). EPHA believes that the new FEAD scheme should include agricultural products of proven health benefits such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes – products currently missing from the scheme’s proposal.
The most vulnerable in our societies already eat less well. As the prices of processed foodstuffs are noticeably lower that nutritious food, disadvantaged communities have no choice but to opt for the less healthy of the options - it does not add up. The health outcomes of the deprived – especially those related to diets – have reached rock bottom. People of low socio-economic status need better, more accessible and affordable food available to them in a sustainable way – not just emergency food of high energy and fat value, as the reviewed FEAD is set to provide - if accepted in this form according to the proposal.
(1) Chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), overweight and obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and mental health disorders pose the greatest threat to health and are a major barrier to sustainable economic and inclusive growth in Europe. Diet, along with physical activity, alcohol and tobacco consumption is one of the leading modifiable risk factors for NCDs.
(2) Food Aid Programme to the Most Deprived Persons Scheme in the Union (MDP Scheme), set up in 1987 under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), currently provides food aid to 18 million people suffering from food poverty in 23 EU Member States and has distribution chains involving some 240 food banks and charities. Originally, the scheme was to rely on the EU agricultural intervention stocks but in the recent years, the programme became to depend on market purchases as a consequence of the reform of the CAP and depleted surpluses. On 13 April 2011, the European Court of Justice ruled that the programme can only use food from intervention stocks and may not spend EU money to buy food supplies on the open market. As a result, the provision of food aid through such purchases cannot be used as a legal basis for food distribution to EU citizens in need. Following the court ruling, the Commission proposal for 2012 entailed a sudden reduction in funding from 500 million in 2011 to 113 million in 2012. For 2013 – the last year of the scheme funded from the CAP funds – an amount of 500 million was secured. Post-2013 scheme is to see some 2.5 billion to spend over 7 years
(3) In 2008, the Commission revised the MDP Scheme and proposed to include wider variety of products for distribution. Food products would be chosen by Member State authorities in the frame of national food distribution programmes setting out objectives and priorities for food distribution to the most deprived and that would include nutritional concerns.
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