Europe must change food system for global supply, say experts

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, European union, International trade

Scientists and policy experts this month turned the spotlight on
what Europeans want from their food, and suggested ways that the
supply system needs to change in the context of globalisation of
markets.

At a conference in Budapest earlier this month, attendees were presented with information to help them understand socioeconomic, political and cultural influences on Europeans' diets. The idea is this that policy makers use this to help them steer the food chain, and ensure that all people have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. Attendees were presented with evidence that Europeans are eating a broader variety of meats and vegetables than they were ten years ago. But they are also exacting in their demands that food tastes better, makes them healthier and, since people lead increasingly busy lifestyle, can be prepared in less time. On top of all this, they also want their food to be available throughout the year, and for as low a price as possible. The upshot of this is that food travels more miles and along more complex distribution routes than ever before. Whereas in the past the European food supply system has been the subject of quite isolated investment, Rudy Rabbinge, professor in sustainable development and food systems at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, said that Europe needs to change its food supply system to take prevent potential global food supply issues in the future. This is not only a matter of sourcing food from around the world, but also taking advantage of new markets opening up in China and India. For instance, a growing middle-class in China is consuming more meat, and dairy products are on the rise in India. This week figures released by the European Community's statistics office showed that food and drink trade with China and India has increased significantly in the last six years - but imports are still outweighing exports. Food and drink exports to China have increased from €439m in 2000 to €885m in 2006. Meanwhile, imports have mounted from €3,498 to €5,979m. Europe exported €57m worth of food and drink products to India in 2000. This increased five-fold to €263m in 2006. Imports from India have grown at a lesser pace, from €1,207m to €1,471 over the six-year period. This led to a small increase in trade deficit, from -€1,150 to -€1,208. Scientists at the conference in Budapest said they hope overall efficiency in food supply can be improved by encouraging different industries in the food chain to consider the food system as a whole. Thomas Henrichs, senior advisor for the National Environmental Research Institute in Denmark, said that a whole new way of describing the food system is needed. He advocates a holistic food systems approach, which takes into consideration, on one hand, supply activities like growing a particular food item (like a green bean, for instance), processing, packaging, distribution and shipping. On the other hand, it should also consider the impact on the environment of the bean, the economy, and the health and wellness of the person eating it. Attendees at the conference also concluded that Europeans will also have to production and consumption efficiency in the light of climate change and issues with the energy supply. The conference took place on November 5 and 6, and was supported by the European Science Foundation and the European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research.

Related topics: Market Trends

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