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Food for the needy: Agriculture Committee rescues EU programme

A two-year reprieve for the EU's "food for the needy" programme, on which 18 million of the EU's most deprived people rely, was backed by the Agriculture Committee on Monday. If Parliament as a whole endorses the plan to rescue the programme, it will run until the end of 2013, with a budget of up to €500 million per year.

The Agriculture Committee backed the text as proposed by the Council so as to avoid delays in getting the aid to those who rely on it.

The compromise will "solve the pressing situation of those depending on the programme for now" and will "leave enough space for further negotiations" on how to pursue the programme after 2014, said head of the Agriculture Committee negotiating team and Parliament's rapporteur for the regulation Czesław Adam Siekierski (EPP, PL).

"In a time of global economic crisis that leaves many citizens unable to feed their families, this is good news", said Agriculture Committee chair, Paolo de Castro (S&D, IT), stressing that "we must ensure that in current economic situation we do take care of those who urgently need our attention now".

If the Parliament as a whole follows the Agriculture Committee recommendation to back the compromise text, the scheme will apply retroactively from 1 January 2012 until the end of 2013, with budget ceiling of €500 million per year. The plenary vote is scheduled for 15 February in Strasbourg.

Background

The scheme for distributing free food to the EU's most deprived citizens, set up in 1987 under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), currently provides food aid for 18 million people living in poverty in  20 EU Member States. The European Commission estimates that 43 million people in the EU are at risk of food poverty.

The free food originally came from CAP intervention stocks, but as these were reduced, the scheme came increasingly to rely on market purchases, just as the global economic crisis caused a sharp increase in the number of citizens in need.

However, in April 2011 the EU Court of Justice ruled that the scheme could only use food from intervention stocks. If no action were taken, funding for the scheme would have to be reduced to €133 million in 2012, from €500 million in 2011.

A proposed update of the regulation, which would make it possible for the scheme to purchase food on the market, had remained blocked in the Council until November 2011, when Germany agreed to back the scheme's continuation, with proper funding, until the end of 2013.