European Ministers for Agriculture discuss food and agriculture in the Region

Ministers and senior government officials from 38 countries of the European Region and the European Commission discussed agricultural issues including food security during the FAO Regional Conference for Europe in Tallinn, Estonia on 25 to 29 May.

Twenty-first Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Europe

Tallinn, Estonia, 25-29 May 1998

Conference documents available here.

It was recognised that the food situation in the region is gradually improving, even in the more vulnerable countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Six countries in the region (Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and the FYR of Macedonia) are still classified low-income food deficit countries (LIFDCs). They have a per caput annual gross national product of less than US$1,505.

The meeting also reviewed the implementation of the 1996 World Food Summit Plan of Action and took particular interest in the development of Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems (FIVIMS).

Food quality and safety issues hamper international trade

Other important topics of discussion included problems of food quality and safety which have hampered the growth of international food trade and created increasing consumer concerns in Europe. The Conference noted the importance of comprehensive and harmonized food regulations. Figures released by the United States Food and Drug Administration, show that during the first months of 1998, some 770 shipments from Western and Eastern European countries were rejected by the United States. According to FAO, food legislation in a number of European countries urgently needs to be revised and updated.

Soil degradation in Europe also on the agenda

The Conference also heard that erosion and soil degradation are damaging millions of hectares of agricultural land in Europe every year. FAO estimates that nearly 220 million hectares of land in the European region are moderately or severely degraded. This equals an area four times the size of France.

A Conference document cited destruction of forests, excessive use of fertilizers, manure and pesticides, inappropriate tillage practices, monoculture and excessive grazing pressure as the main factors contributing to land degradation in Europe. The cost of soil degradation and erosion in Europe is estimated at about 10 percent of the value of agricultural production each year.

How to boost fish trade in Central and Eastern Europe

Finally, the meeting was informed that fish production in the Central and Eastern European countries and in the Russian Federation has declined dramatically over the past years, mainly as a result of loss of access to distant fishing grounds and the collapse of centrally controlled marketing and distribution networks. EASTFISH, a fish marketing and information service for Central and Eastern European countries, sponsored by FAO, and based in Copenhagen, is working to boost fish trade in the sub-region by providing timely and accurate price and marketing information.

The meeting was also informed about the activities of FAO's World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT). The participants underlined the importance of the distribution of agricultural data and encouraged further dialogue of the partners.

24 June 1998

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