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Brussels, 17 September 2010

Commission adopts amended proposal for the food programme for the most deprived persons in the European Union.

The European Commission today adopted an amended proposal to improve the current food distribution programme for the most deprived persons in the European Union. It builds on a 2008 proposal allowing the scheme to use market purchases on a permanent basis, to complement available intervention stocks. Member States would choose what food to distribute and food distribution plans would be established for three-year periods. Food would continue to be distributed in cooperation with charities and local social services. Every year, more than 13 million European citizens benefit from this programme. The amended proposal provides stable and more favourable rates of national co-financing and puts an annual ceiling of € 500 million on the EU's contribution. It makes a number of other adjustments to the original 2008 proposal and aligns it with the Lisbon Treaty. The 2008 proposal was not adopted by the Council, despite the supportive stance of the European Parliament.

"The programme for the most deprived represents a very real way of helping some of the least fortunate members of our society. In a context where several millions of Europeans have a problem of access to food, the proposal is part of our objective of a CAP with a strong link between consumers and production", said Dacian Cioloș, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. "We should not forget that the CAP is intended to benefit all sections of society, not just farmers".

First introduced in 1987, the programme originally provided surplus stocks of farm produce ("intervention stocks") to needy people. The scheme was amended in the mid-1990s to make it possible, in certain circumstances, to supplement intervention stocks with market purchases.

The introduction of co-financing will help to improve planning and the management of funds and allow Member States to take greater responsibility for the programme. In order to facilitate Member State participation, the amended proposal provides for more favourable rates of national co-financing (25% and 10% for Cohesion Member States versus 50% and 25% after the phase-in period in the former proposal). To further enhance efficiency and to ensure continuity, a three-year distribution plan would be established.

Products would no longer be limited to those for which intervention applies. For example, fruit and vegetables and cooking oil will, for the first time, be eligible for distribution. In future, the choice of food would be made by national authorities on the basis of nutritional criteria and distributed in cooperation with civil society partners, as happens now.

Food would be sourced from intervention stocks or from the market, with priority given to the use of suitable intervention stocks where these are available. As suggested by the European Parliament, the amended proposal provides the possibility for Member States to give preference to food products of EU origin. Distribution must be free of charge or at a price no greater than justified by the costs incurred by the designated organisation in distributing the food.

Member States are free to choose whether or not to participate in the programme; at present, 19 Member States take part. Aid is typically provided to a wide range of people living in poverty, including families in difficulties, elderly people with insufficient means, the homeless, the disabled, children at risk, the working poor, migrant workers and asylum seekers.

As is the case with the current scheme, Member States taking part in the programme would select suitable organisations - usually charities or local social services - to carry out the food distribution. Unlike in the past, when programming was on an annual basis, they would then identify their needs for a three-year period and make their request to the Commission accordingly. The Commission would then allocate the budget on an annual basis, to enable adjustments to be made if the situation changes in the course of the programming period.

Although the EU has, on average, among the highest living standards in the world, some people are unable to feed themselves adequately. An estimated 43 million people in the EU are at risk of food poverty, meaning that they cannot afford a meal with meat, chicken or fish every second day.

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