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Food aid to reach more of Europe’s poor - 17/09/2008

An open box of cabbages among other boxes in a food warehouse

Commission proposes increased funding for free food distribution scheme to help EU’s poorest.

The EU food distribution scheme has been going since 1987. But while rising food prices have led to a sharp increase in the number of families in need, surplus stocks of farm produce used in the past are now at an all-time low – thanks to the ongoing reform of the common agricultural policy.

The commission proposal would increase the budget for food aid by two-thirds to around €500m - starting in 2009 – so that it reaches even more of Europe’s deprived families. Initially, the EU will meet 75% of costs (85% in poorer areas), but by 2015 costs will be split 50/50 between the EU and the member countries (and 75/25 in poorer areas).

The new proposal will also allow countries to choose which foods they distribute – based on local needs and nutritional criteria. Three-year food distribution plans would ensure continuity and better management.

When EU farms were producing more food than the EU population could consume, giving surpluses to those in need was an obvious solution – especially in the harsh winter of 1987. Since then, surplus food has been given to charities and social schemes to distribute in each EU country. From the mid-1990s, shrinking agricultural stocks were supplemented with food purchased on the market.

In 2006, more than 13 million people in the EU benefited from the scheme. But some 43 million are thought to be at risk of food poverty, meaning that they cannot afford a meal with meat, chicken or fish every second day. Aid is typically distributed to a wide range of people, including families in difficulties, the elderly, the homeless, the disabled and asylum seekers.

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