The EU must rethink its stance on modern, science-based agriculture or risk sleep-walking into a food crisis with “potentially devastating socio-economic and humanitarian consequences”, the Crop Protection Association (CPA) has warned.

Global food prices returned to dangerously high levels last month, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) global food price index.

Extreme weather conditions hit harvest prospects in many parts of the world, prompting fresh fears of a return to the soaring prices, food riots and export bans of 2008.

The FAO reported a 6% rise in the global food price index in July, citing untimely rains in Brazil, drought conditions in the USA and production difficulties in Russia as major factors.

According to the FAO, cereal values increased by 17% and sugar prices rose by 12%, while extensive drought damage in the USA pushed maize prices up by almost 23% in a single month.

“With heightened concern over the combined effect of population growth and climate change on global food security, these latest statistics from the FAO should serve as a wake-up call to Europe’s policy-makers,” said CPA chairman Stephen Henning.

“As one of the world’s major food-producing economies, the EU has significant capacity to influence global food prices and availability, but we are at risk of sleep-walking into a food crisis unless current policies that impede or restrict production-boosting technologies are reversed.”

Innovations in plant science, for example, from novel crop protection products to improvements in the plants they are used on, offered “major opportunities for Europe’s farmers to deliver sustainable gains in agricultural productivity”, he added.

Yet such advances were being discouraged by a seemingly “anti-productive farming policy agenda in Brussels”.

“This latest spike in global food prices highlights the fragility of the world’s food supply base, and sends a clear message to policy-makers of the need to embrace developments in agricultural science and innovation to ensure production can keep pace with burgeoning demand,” said Mr Henning. “Doing nothing is not an option.”

Philip Case on G+