Protecting the EU agri-food supply chain in the face of COVID-19

02-04-2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, EU countries' governments have taken a host of measures, including reintroducing border controls and setting limits to free movement of people within their territory, in an attempt to stem the spread of the disease. These measures have had a pronounced impact on the EU agri-food supply chain. The EU food system is a complex web of inter-related sectors that ensure both the sustenance of EU consumers and the achievement of food security, one of the EU Treaty's objectives. This system relies on about 10 million farms, several hundred thousand food and beverage processing companies, thousands of businesses manufacturing agricultural inputs or handling packaging, transport, storage and distribution, as well as wholesalers, markets and other retailers. When the functioning of any one sector of the food chain is hindered, the whole chain can be disrupted. For instance, as highlighted by sectoral stakeholders and then addressed by EU-level measures, recent national restrictions have contributed to problems such as blocked transport routes, long queues at border checks for commodity transport, and shortages of seasonal farm workers who can no longer move freely from one Member State to another. Specific schemes have been set up at EU level as a lifeline to farms and companies from the agri-food sectors that have been the hardest hit and are in greatest need of support. The European Parliament voted the first emergency measures to combat COVID-19 at an extraordinary plenary meeting on 26 March. Members of the Parliament's Agricultural and Rural Development Committee have put forward proposals on further measures. There has also been an overhaul of EU farm policy rules as a first step to address the emergency at EU level. How these rules will evolve further depends on the concerted efforts of all parties concerned: stakeholders, the EU and national policy-makers. Unified action at EU level is also required to complete the legislative process for the adoption of the 2021-2027 long-term EU budget and future EU farm policy, discussion of which has slowed down due to the crisis.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, EU countries' governments have taken a host of measures, including reintroducing border controls and setting limits to free movement of people within their territory, in an attempt to stem the spread of the disease. These measures have had a pronounced impact on the EU agri-food supply chain. The EU food system is a complex web of inter-related sectors that ensure both the sustenance of EU consumers and the achievement of food security, one of the EU Treaty's objectives. This system relies on about 10 million farms, several hundred thousand food and beverage processing companies, thousands of businesses manufacturing agricultural inputs or handling packaging, transport, storage and distribution, as well as wholesalers, markets and other retailers. When the functioning of any one sector of the food chain is hindered, the whole chain can be disrupted. For instance, as highlighted by sectoral stakeholders and then addressed by EU-level measures, recent national restrictions have contributed to problems such as blocked transport routes, long queues at border checks for commodity transport, and shortages of seasonal farm workers who can no longer move freely from one Member State to another. Specific schemes have been set up at EU level as a lifeline to farms and companies from the agri-food sectors that have been the hardest hit and are in greatest need of support. The European Parliament voted the first emergency measures to combat COVID-19 at an extraordinary plenary meeting on 26 March. Members of the Parliament's Agricultural and Rural Development Committee have put forward proposals on further measures. There has also been an overhaul of EU farm policy rules as a first step to address the emergency at EU level. How these rules will evolve further depends on the concerted efforts of all parties concerned: stakeholders, the EU and national policy-makers. Unified action at EU level is also required to complete the legislative process for the adoption of the 2021-2027 long-term EU budget and future EU farm policy, discussion of which has slowed down due to the crisis.