The EU imports vastly more food than it exports and our food consumption has a detrimental impact on the planet – but there is appetite for change.
Despite being the world's largest exporter of agri-food products in economic terms, the EU carries a significant trade deficit when measured for what actually matters in nutritional terms, such as calories and proteins. The EU consumes more than its fair share and our current high levels of food production are only possible thanks to massive imports of resources, shows a new WWF report released on 23 May 2022.
WWF: "The EU’s food imports and domestic production are fundamentally unsustainable, as they erode natural resources, drive global deforestation and deplete fish stocks around the world. 40% of the food produced in the EU is also never eaten, and this wastefulness comes at an enormous cost to climate and biodiversity. Trying to increase food production in the EU in response to the ongoing global food crisis would likely only exacerbate these problems. Instead, shifting our consumption can make a greater contribution to food security and lower the impacts of the EU food system."
The report shows that:
- The EU’s agri-food trade model revolves around importing low-value raw products, such as cocoa, fruits and soybeans, and exporting high-value ones like wine and chocolate: a positive contribution to the EU economy, but not to the global food supply.
- Many of the agri-food commodities imported into the EU are produced at the expense of millions of hectares of forests and other natural ecosystems, fuelling climate change, biodiversity loss and social injustices. The new EU Deforestation Law, currently being discussed, is an opportunity to stop this destruction.
- The EU imports nearly twice as much seafood as it produces, and some of this seafood comes from tropical regions where local communities rely on these fish stocks for protein but are facing declining catches due to overfishing and climate change. Aquaculture could provide some solutions.
- The EU produces more animal products than is recommended for our health. To sustain this oversized livestock sector, more than half of the grain crops we grow are fed to animals, and we import vast amounts of soy and other feed.
- The EU wastes vast amounts of food every year. While there is a growing drive to address food waste, food loss on farms is often overlooked, but 15% of total food production is estimated to be lost during or shortly after harvest each year.
- There is an appetite for change from EU consumers. Three out of five Europeans want to eat more sustainably and three out of four want EU legislation to ensure that all products sold in the EU do not lead to biodiversity loss.
- Food businesses are increasingly engaging with nature-positive food production, regenerative agriculture and higher animal-welfare standards. Today, some 14.6 million hectares of land in the EU and the UK – 8.1% of the total agricultural area – are farmed organically by nearly 350,000 producers, and the EU’s organic food market has doubled in value since 2010.
The upcoming legislative framework for a sustainable food system, which the European Commission is expected to propose in 2023, must be a turning point. The report provides several policy pathways through which this new law can guide the EU’s food consumption towards sustainability.
Read the report ‘Europe eats the world’