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FOOD BANK/ In wealthy Europe, some still go hungry

President of the European Federation of Food Banks ISABEL JONET discusses the importance of food banks and how they are currently in danger of being closed in Europe.

(Infophoto) (Infophoto)

Europe is facing challenges we thought we had already beaten - poverty, high unemployment and food shortages. The European Federation of Food Banks, which coordinates 245 food collection and distribution centers in 19 countries, helps feed 5 million needy Europeans - a number that has grown considerably with the current financial crisis. However, the continental food aid programme is now in danger of being curtailed, or even closed down, by EU leaders just when it is needed most. Coinciding with the European summit on June 26, the EFFB calls on EU leaders to keep this valuable programme going.

The European winter of 1947 was one of the hardest of the 20th century. And the summer of that year was one of the driest. Across the post-war continent, crops failed and food shortages became acute. In regions where, even during the war, the daily supply of calories to adults was above 2,000, that number dropped by half. In some countries, it fell to a third of that amount.

It’s hard to imagine such hardship nowadays. The European Union appears to have resolved the continent’s food problems. In most EU countries, each person’s average consumption is above 3,500 calories a day - almost double what the FAO considers to be the daily minimum (1,900 calories).

And yet, we should not allow these apparently comfortable circumstances to draw our attention away from important imbalances, especially during the economic crisis currently affecting many EU countries. The apparent abundance in this part of the world, as in the United States and Canada, conceals serious food needs among the less well-off. The recent increase in the requests for help from food banks and similar charitable institutions shows that the problem exists and cannot be ignored.

Up to last year, the EU ran a food aid programme that was linked to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The programme took some of the excess production generated by the CAP and gave it to the needy. But the fall in stockpiles, as well as the unwillingness of some EU member states to purchase food for the needy on the open market, has brought the food aid programme to the breaking point. As things stand, it appears doomed.