The last few days have been very future focused as I took part in events and debates assessing the current state-of-play on major political, social and economic issue with a view to developing future policy orientation.
One such opportunity involved a keynote speech at a major conference on a Research Agenda for Global Food and Nutrition Security at the Expo 2015 in Milan last week.
Food, nutrition and health are all interlinked and the challenges presented will have to be addressed not just by one country or indeed the EU. It requires instead a global approach by the science and research sectors, through education, with political will and economical, practical sense.
There are huge costs associated with food related healthcare in the developed world from obesity to malnourishment. In 2013, an estimated 32 million adults in the EU aged 20-79 had diabetes, amounting to a healthcare cost in the order of €100 billion to treat and prevent the disease. Meanwhile, in the developing world, hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity pose serious problems.
Science and innovation will be crucial for the development of a smarter, greener approach to food and agricultural production. It is not an insurmountable challenge but it will not be easily addressed. There is huge pressure on all of our resources – soil, water etc and climate change requires action to alleviate and prevent further environmental damage. The agricultural sector faces a quandary of sorts in trying to achieve a balance in producing more while reducing its environmental impact.
Yet, make no mistake; farmers remain the cornerstone of our future food supply. We need to encourage and renew our farming population with sufficient rewards for farmers and to address any unfair practices in the food supply chain.
I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the conference at Expo Milan, which is all themed under the concept of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. The universal Expo showcases technology, innovation, culture, traditions and creativity and how they relate to food and diet until October of this year.
Protecting human rights
As Vice-President of the European Parliament and Children’s Mediator for the Parliament, I also addressed a London conference on a disturbing but real concern around children’s rights in family problems. The conference was hosted by the Slovakian embassy in London in response to concerns about how the children of parents from other Member States are treated by the social care system when family problems arise.
In the UK, adoption without parental consent is practiced and legal. In some cases children are adopted quite quickly with reports that parents are not consulted and that insufficient efforts are made to keep families together, or to find someone within the wider family circle willing to care for a child.
The issue also comes to my office directly from concerned family members. It has also come to the Petitions Committee with many cases of parents (many of Easter European Member States, though not exclusively) seeking some action at EU level to address their individual situations.
Our dilemma is that Member States each have their own set of rules and laws in this area. However, with the issue impacting on EU citizens residing in another Member State it is clear that an EU response is required. We are working on this and while it is very sensitive, nonetheless we have to gather more information and work with the authorities to try and find solution that are genuinely “in the best interests of the child”.
Meanwhile, this week, in Strasbourg, we debated a Motion for Resolution on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
As the text rightly states, as full citizens, the 80 million people living in the EU who have a disability have equal rights and are entitled to inalienable dignity, equal treatment, independent living and full participation in society. However, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights consistently demonstrates that persons with disabilities face discrimination and barriers to exercising their rights on an equal basis with others. Often, people with disabilities can find themselves in a vulnerable position in society and that is why it is of the utmost importance that the EU and its Member States ensure full inclusivity and equal participation of persons with disabilities through a human-rights-based approach at all levels.
Ardee – Enterprise Town
Finally, I look forward to meeting everyone at the Ardee Enterprise Town event organised by Bank of Ireland for Saturday, May 23rd. This initiative involves the business community in Ardee and aims to encourage business development locally.
I had the privilege of addressing the Bank of Ireland enterprise evening in Gort a week ago and it was a great success bringing people together, sharing ideas, experiences and offering support.