Europe eats the world

Posted on May, 23 2022

This report looks at the impact of the EU's food production and consumption on the planet.

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, shows a new WWF report. 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.

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 – making a positive contribution to the EU economy, but not necessarily 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 EU remains the second-largest importer of products linked to tropical deforestation. The new EU Deforestation Law, currently being discussed in the European Parliament and the Environment Council, 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, but only if it focuses on herbivore species such as carp and filter-feeding molluscs, rather than carnivorous species such as salmon.
  • 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 production of crops for feed or fuel is intrinsically inefficient, increasing the impacts of our agriculture and food on biodiversity, soil health, and the climate.
  • The EU wastes vast amounts of food every year, estimated to be as high as 173 kg of food per person. While there is a growing drive to address food waste at the retail and consumer level, food loss on farms is often overlooked, but as much as 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 report is available in English, Polish, German, Portuguese and French.
With the support of the LIFE Programme of the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union.
Europe eats the world