GFAR blog

Global implications of the European Food System; A food systems approach


The EU is a major player in the world market for agricultural products, both dependent on commodity imports from many countries, and exporting high-value agricultural products. There is a need to better understand the impact – on people, planet and profit – of the EU trade on food systems outside the EU, with a focus on Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC).

  • This report will help the EU to steer its actions and policies in other directions where this is deemed necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • This report focuses on the global dimension of the European food system, by zooming in on the trade relations between the EU and the rest of the world and the effects of this trade on local food systems.
  • The report was commissioned by the SCAR Strategic Working group ARCH. We thank the members of the SCAR Working group for their valuable comments and suggestions on a draft version of this report.
The objective of this study is to enhance the knowledge on the global implications of the EU food system. In particular, the study provides:
  1. an analysis of the trade relations between the EU and the rest of the world from several angles (total, by geographical blocs, by income blocs and by trade agreements), with a focus on Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC);
  2. case studies of the effects of EU trade in three products – cocoa, soy and fish – on local food systems, based on social, environmental and economic indicators;
  3. an explorative analysis of possible changes in the EU food system and its impact on the food systems in third countries.

The top 5 of imported products by the EU28 from third countries includes fish (mainly fresh salmon and frozen shrimps & prawns), fruits and nuts (bananas and almonds), coffee and tea, residues from the food industry (oil cakes from soy bean meal), and oilseeds (soy bean and rapeseed). (page 15)

The top 5 of exported products by the EU28 to third countries includes beverages (wine and spirits in particular), dairy produce and eggs (cheese), meat (pig meat), cereals (wheat), and cereal preparations (flour); Shares of this top 5 were rather stable in the period 2000-2016 apart from cereal preparations, which increased from 5% in 2000 till 8% in 2016. (page 16)

Changing demands of the European processors and retail require an adaptive response by farmers and/or other parts of the food value chain. If farmers and the food value chain are able to do so, this may result in benefits for both farming and the wider economy (through processing and packaging). However, for low- and middle-income countries the necessary transformation of their food systems presents challenges for producers, especially smallholders. Domestic barriers, like lack of access to finance, markets and transport, as well as the barriers created by standards on quality, traceability and certification, often make their participation in integrated value chains very difficult. In many countries, the ongoing fragmentation of farmland may further hinder smallholder farmers’ capacity to adopt new technologies. (page 8)

An increasing number of perspectives for assessing food systems outcomes are being developed, many aiming to provide tools to address effects of food insecurity or climate change. What is common in the majority of these novel approaches, is their emphasis on the need for a holistic and systematic interrogation of food systems. As such, a clear shift has been made from a focus on solely food production outcomes, to approaches that also incorporate food consumption, retail channels and policy incentives. (page 12)

To read the whole blog post, visit the PAEPARD Blog.

Berkhout, P., T. Achterbosch, S. van Berkum, H. Dagevos, J. Dengerink, A.P. van Duijn, I. Terluin, 2018. Global implications of the European Food System; A food systems approach. Wageningen, Wageningen Economic Research, Report 2018-051. 56 pp.; 4 fig.; 2 tab.; 73 ref.

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