Seanad Éireann - Volume 152 - 15 October, 1997
Adjournment Matters. - World Food Day.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
 Mr. Quinn: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Keeffe, to the House.
My topic is the need for the nation to take its full part in the celebrations of World Food Day tomorrow, 16 October. The Minister and I were away last week. We met at the World Trade Fair in Germany and I was unaware that tomorrow was World Food Day. The Minister and I spent some time together in the company of Chancellor Kohl. We saw what is happening to the world trade in food at the largest trade fair in the world. There were hectares of stands. There were Irish stands, one of which we can be immensely proud. The food represented there showed the food of Ireland to an extent that would make anybody whose taste buds were not even whetted gasp with delight. Some 103 nations and 6,500 different companies were represented. The opportunity for business and the way we could create a market came to mind. The cornucopia of delights took my breath away.
Then I stepped on the plane to come home and picked up a magazine carrying an article called “Food for Thought”. It said “It is world food day on 16 October but who will notice and who will care?” I was struck by this because it showed the most horrific pictures of people starving in eastern Asia, including India, in Africa south of the Sahara, Latin America, China, North Korea and so on. Many people are starving, they will wake up in the morning knowing they will not get enough to eat. Yet we were coming from this Utopia, if I could call it that, of food in Cologne and reading this article.
I will touch on something I learnt from this article. I was ten years of age in 1947 when we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Great Famine. I am delighted to see members of the Catholic Guides of Ireland from Drimnagh here tonight; they range from ten to 15 years of age, and I can remember the huge impact the commemoration of the Great Famine had on me at that age. I remember seeing people hungry in Biafra in the 1960s and in Ethiopia in the 1980s. I thought all this was in the past until I read that article. I was struck by the recognition that we have almost forgotten that there are people hungry in the world. When I concentrated on this I realised that the purpose of the celebrations tomorrow is to draw the world's attention to the fact that there are people hungry.
The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 800 million people in the world are suffering from malnutrition and that number is growing considerably. The FAO estimates that in 40 years time the world population will be increased by 3 billion more than the present 5.7 billion. If hunger were a disease it would be of epidemic proportions. That is why every year the FAO nominates 16 October, the anniversary of its foundation in 1979, as World Food Day. The objective is to heighten public  awareness of hunger, malnutrition and poverty in the world.
This year's theme is “Investing in Food Security”. Food security means it is the human right of each man, woman and child on this planet to at least have enough food to lead a healthy and productive life. Hopefully, World Food Day will stimulate interest and activity throughout the world. We must not hold our breaths, however, nor be too sure that it will happen. It is interesting to note that enough food is already produced to feed everybody — the real problems are its availability and affordability. The poor need the means to grow food and Third World countries need the means to set up adequate distribution systems.
Some years ago an interesting book was written by a Canadian economist and futurist called Frank Feather. He said we will not have a problem in future with lack of food or lack of space. There is plenty of space and the world's population could fit into the state of Texas. We produce enough food but what is lacking is the ability to distribute it. That is surely a management problem. We can face up to that challenge and manage to do something about it. A rocket was due to travel to Saturn today at a cost of $3 billion. At a time when we are able to achieve that sort of thing, the challenge of being able to distribute the food that already exists is surely not too big for us.
We must ensure the technology we use is safe in the area of food security. We must support only the highest standards if we are to apply the development of such systems as genetic engineering to food. In the interests of those who are hungry, however, we must also insist that we adhere to the very best practices our scientists and agriculturalists can come up with.
Crop varieties that were developed over centuries to resist pests, disease and climatic conditions are being lost. Once a crop variety is lost its attributes can never be recovered. Therefore we must work hard, not as a nation particularly but as a world community, to make sure this does not happen.
Some 30 per cent of domestic animal breeds are at risk. In Europe half the breeds that existed at the beginning of this century are being lost to intensive production. Many challenges are facing us, but these are only management challenges. In our own hands we can solve them.
I raised this matter on the Adjournment so that we will think of it on World Food Day tomorrow and we will use the opportunity to do something about it. Future generations will look back on what is happening at the end of the 20th century — just as we look back on slavery or capital punishment for minor offences 100 years ago — and ask how we put up with a system of paying farmers not to grow something under the set-aside system when others were hungry.
As a State we cannot solve this problem on our own, but our nation suffered from famine 150 years ago and it is that very feeling and emotion  inside us that encourages us to do something about it. We must begin to look at food needs from a global perspective, not purely from a European one that only serves local interests.
Given our history we should be a leader within the European Union in pressing for a reformed agricultural policy that encompasses a moral dimension as well as an economic one. I want Senators to consider that tomorrow at lunch and dinner when we enjoy food that many in the world do not have.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. N. O'Keeffe) Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. N. O'Keeffe)
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. N. O'Keeffe): I congratulate you, a Chathaoirligh, on your election as Cathaoirleach. I served as a Member of this House 15 years ago. I was elected in April 1982 and spent a few months here doing an apprenticeship, one could say. I wish success to all Senators.
I thank Senator Quinn for raising this matter. Since I became Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, with special responsibility for food, the Senator has crossed my path in many areas. I praise his work for the food industry. He was clearly an influence at the Enuga food fair during the week. He knows the food business and is doing good work for the country. We had an excellent trade exhibition at the fair with the theme “Ireland, the food island”; we had an excellent team there.
We have much to offer the world in terms of good quality food. The presence of retailers like Senator Quinn, who are prepared to travel the world to help our food industry, helps farmers and food processors. I have watched his progress since the study was done on the food industry. We discussed the Senator's minority report for which I had respect at the time. I congratulate him for his efforts.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: Thank you.
Mr. N. O'Keeffe Mr. N. O'Keeffe
Mr. N. O'Keeffe: World Food Day is celebrated on 16 October each year, on the anniversary of the founding of FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. World Food Day is observed in more than 150 countries. Its objective is to heighten public awareness of the problem of world hunger.
“Investing in Food Security” is the theme for World Food Day, 1997. This theme is particularly appropriate and important at this time. The issue of how to achieve food security for all people is one of the greatest challenges facing the world as we enter the 21st century. It is estimated that over 800 million people are hungry or malnourished in the world today while a far greater number, perhaps 2 billion, have diets which are chronically deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. It is the responsibility of all of us — Governments, NGOs, international organisations and individuals — to do all we can to address this problem.
In the past, food security was seen largely as a problem of agricultural production. It was thought that if enough food was produced no one  would go hungry. However, experience has shown us that food security is a complex and multi-faceted problem.
The World Food Summit in November last year, in which Ireland as President of the EU played a leading role, provided a forum for Heads of State and Government from around the world to put their political commitment behind urgent action to eradicate hunger and create world food security. It agreed a specific target of reducing the number of under-nourished people to half its present level of 800 million no later than 2015.
The summit defined food security as follows: “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. The summit plan of action consists of seven commitments and associated actions focused on the factors necessary to achieve food security. These are an enabling political, social and economic environment. This is the essential foundation which will enable states to give adequate priority to food security and poverty eradication; policies aimed at eradicating poverty and improving access to food — poverty was clearly recognised at the summit as the prime source of food insecurity; the provision of sustainable food, agricultural, fisheries, forestry and rural development policies, which are essential to adequate and reliable food supplies; ensuring that trade policies are conducive to fostering food security for all through a fair and market-oriented world trade system; preparation for, and prevention of, natural disasters and man-made emergencies; optimal allocation and use of public and private investments and implementation, monitoring and follow-up to the summit by governments in co-operation with the international community.
The summit has been understandably criticised for setting a target which envisages that there will still be 400 million starving people in the world in 20 years' time. However, it must be borne in mind that FAO predicts that unless current trends are changed, there will be 680 million people starving by 2015. It is in this context that the figure of 400 million must be seen. To achieve even this admittedly limited aim will require radical change from current trends and, therefore, will need real and substantial action by the Governments and organisations which have committed themselves to this aim, and to the plan of action adopted by the summit.
Unlike previous pledges to eradicate world hunger, the summit provides for a detailed system of implementation, co-ordination and monitoring to ensure that Governments, NGOs, and the UN system take action to implement their commitments. I assure this House that Ireland will take an active role in ensuring that summit commitments are taken seriously.
The 150th anniversary of the Great Famine has sharpened our official and voluntary commitment to development and food security. I pay special  tribute to the role played by Irish non-governmental organisations in this effort.
One of the most important ways in which the Government implements its commitments on food security is through the Irish aid programme. The total allocation for Irish aid in 1997 is £122 million, which is equivalent to 0.31 per cent of GNP. This is the highest level ever, both in money terms and as a percentage of GNP. Ireland now has the fastest growing aid programme of any donor country. Since 1992, growth has been particularly strong, with the allocation increasing from £40 million or 0.16 per cent of GNP in that year to, as I have said, £122 million in 1997.
 Gorta, Ireland's freedom from hunger campaign, will hold its annual World Food Day seminar tomorrow on the theme investing in food security, with a range of participants, including NGOs, academics and the food industry. Also tomorrow, the Irish aid advisory committee will host a lecture by the director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute on the challenges and opportunities for assuring food security in developing countries. I am confident that events such as these will contribute to increasing public understanding and awareness of this most important issue.
The Seanad adjourned at 8.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 16 October 1997.
Seanad Éireann 152 Adjournment Matters. World Food Day.