Commission proposes to expand food programme for the most deprived persons in the EU

The European Commission has proposed to improve the current food distribution programme for the most deprived persons in the European Union by increasing the budget by two thirds to around 500 M€ from 2009 and extending the range of products which can be provided.

The "Most Deprived" food EU aid scheme was originally established in 1987, allowing Member States to release public stocks of surplus food, the so-called "intervention stocks", for use as food aid for needy people. Since then, the situation has changed. Stocks are at an all-time low, the number of needy people has increased and food prices have recently risen sharply. This is why the Commission believes it is vital to increase spending on the scheme, and to allow food purchases on the open market on a permanent basis.

From the 2010/12 plan, the scheme would be co-financed (75% from the EU budget, and 85% in cohesion areas). From the 2013/15 plan, co-financing would be split 50/50, with the EU budget providing 75% in cohesion regions.

Introducing co-financing will help to improve planning and management of funds and allow Member States to take greater responsibility for the programme. To further enhance efficiency and to ensure continuity, a three-year distribution plan should be established. Products would no longer be limited to those for which the intervention applies. For example, fruit and vegetables and cooking oil will, for the first time, be covered by the programme.

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 either from intervention stocks, if available, or from the market with priority given to the use of intervention stocks where these are available. 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 that want to take part in the programme would select suitable organisations - usually charities or local social services - to carry out the food distribution. They would then identify their needs for a three-year programming period and make their request to the Commission, which allocates the budget. This would be done 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 adequately feed themselves. 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. Some 19 Member States currently participate in the programme.