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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » February 23, 2012
Polska… tastes good!
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Don’t Waste Food—Respect Farmers’ Work
February 23, 2012   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Everybody is talking crisis and 15 percent of the citizens of the European Union, which is home to some of the world’s wealthiest countries, live below the poverty line. That adds up to 79 million people. At the same time, an estimated 89 million metric tons of food goes to waste in Europe every year. Put next to each other, these are shocking figures. People are starving and yet so much food ends up in landfills. What also goes to waste is the labor of farmers and people who work in the food-processing industry. Addressing the issue, the European Parliament Jan. 19 passed a resolution on How to Avoid Food Wastage: Strategies for a More Efficient Food Chain in the EU. The resolution points out that, according to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organization, when the global population reaches the projected 9 billion, food deliveries will have to grow at least 70 percent by 2050. Meanwhile, European agriculture may lose a lot of its competitiveness on the global market if the EU fails to really reform its Common Agricultural Policy after 2013, and at the same time little is being done to prevent food wastage.

Those who drafted the resolution have used statistical data and scientific research to make us all realize that an average of 14 percent of harvested crops is wasted during production, and another 15 percent goes to waste during distribution and is thrown away by households. These figures clearly show that even now three-fifths of the total needs forecast for 2050 could be satisfied if less food were wasted. The European Parliament’s resolution highlights the problem and proposes measures to be taken, but it is up to every single one of us whether such huge amounts of food will continue to be thrown away. We hardly stop to think about it on a daily basis and it is only the combined figures that show us the real magnitude of food wastage.

This state of affairs could also improve if legal regulations were changed so that, like food producers, distributors who donate food to charity would not need to incur any extra costs and pay taxes on it. Such changes in law would mark another step toward solving both the problem of food wastage and help reduce the number of malnourished people. If, ideally, Europe reached a point where no food is wasted, the result would be four kilograms of food for each malnourished person a day. I believe the problem of malnutrition could be solved even if we managed to reduce food wastage in Europe by just 50 percent.

Changes in lifestyle triggered by fast-paced life in the world of today have also led to changes in eating habits and Poland is no exception here. Polish people used to have a lot of respect for bread as a symbol of food in general, but now the tradition, which once had people picking up every crumb that fell to the floor, is sadly gone. Thankfully, just recently there has been a backlash against eating meals in a hurry. There is also a growing movement to encourage traditional ways of having meals. Other than restoring traditional interpersonal relations, the movement is also about appropriate eating habits.

If people are made aware of the work that has to be put into producing food and when a large part of the public accepts the fact that food produced in traditional ways has to cost more, the amount of wasted food may decrease. Unfortunately, at the other end are consumers who live below the poverty line and cannot afford to buy even the cheapest food. This is why the EU program under which surplus food is delivered to the poorest citizens, is so important. It might seem that rich Europe has no such citizens, but in reality 16 million people receive food aid supplied by charitable organizations.

In 2008, several member states joined forces in an attempt to put an end to the European program which provides aid to the poorest. It was only the Polish presidency of the EU last year that was able to break up this coalition so the program can continue. The European Commission will assign 500 million for the program, which is comparable to the amount assigned last year.

As an active participant in talks on reforming the Common Agricultural Policy, I always look at its demographic, economic and social aspects. Agriculture is a special branch of the economy and consequently its products cannot be compared to anything else. As a result, agricultural products require special distribution and every price change affects the public. Now that we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Common Agricultural Policy and discussing changes in the policy after 2013, I want to take the opportunity to call for brave reforms. I consider it a scandal that when so much food is going to waste there are still malnourished people on our continent. We need to take these aspects into account as we reform the agricultural policy. On the one hand, we will need to ensure higher food production and better distribution of food and, on the other, we have to radically reduce the wastage of the results of farmers’ painstaking work. We all want to be respected for our work and so we should also have respect for the work of other people. We can show our respect for the work of farmers and people in the food-processing industry by shopping rationally and refraining from wasting food at each distribution and consumption stage. That way, not only will we look after the poor, but also prevent damage to the environment and to our own pockets.
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