In early March 2024. The findings of the study The dependency of the EU’s food system on inputs and their sources have been published. The project was ordered by Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. The EU food system has been analyzed to detect weaknesses and describe tools to secure raw materials and reduce the EU’s dependence on foreign suppliers. The study’s description also includes recommendations for appropriate measures to increase the food resilience of the Union’s population to disruptions in trade flows, price increases for imported inputs or the geopolitical situation.

EU food system depends on imported products, such as animal feed and fertilizers

Recognizing the complicated situation related to the EU food system, the European Parliament in a resolution of March 24, 2022. on The Need for an Urgent EU Action Plan to Ensure Food Security in the EU and Beyond in Light of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine , indicated the need for a comprehensive study of the system’s dependence on non-EU sources of inputs. He also stressed the need to strengthen the security and resilience of the agricultural sector and the entire supply chain by reducing dependence on inputs from third countries and diversifying the supply of key imports, such as fertilizer and animal feed.

Food security

It is well known that the availability of food in the EU is not at risk, but price hikes and related market disruptions have underscored the fact that the EU food system is dependent on raw materials, which in some cases come from a limited number of suppliers. The study ‘s published results show that the EU remains dependent on imported raw materials needed for food production, particularly for raising animals or growing crops.

For some raw materials, their source is highly concentrated geographically – for example, two third-country suppliers provide as much as 85 percent of the raw materials. EU imports of soybeans (used in animal feed). And cereals and soybean meal are now critical feed materials for animal production, particularly for poultry and swine farming. The EU grain sector is also heavily dependent on imported raw materials and energy sources needed, such as for fertilizer production. This dependency calls into question the long-term resilience of the EU food system in increasingly uncertain climate and geopolitical contexts.

Threats to the EU food system

The strategic importance of food security is compounded not only by fluctuations in global markets following the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also by climate change and the increasingly extreme weather conditions associated with it.

The threats to the EU food system identified in the study are divided into:

  • economic and market, arising from market disruptions (e.g., changes in gas prices, difficult access to raw materials, etc.);
  • environmental, resulting from the EU environment in which the production systems operate. These threats are related to a changing climate, extreme weather events, natural disasters, limited natural resources or loss of biodiversity;
  • Geopolitical and institutional, related to changes in the political framework: geopolitical instability, conflict, terrorism or trade barriers;
  • Socio-cultural and demographic, resulting from changes in the structure, culture and behavior of society: e.g., pandemic and human health threats, social unrest, etc..;
  • Supply chain performance – malfunctions in supply chains due to disruptions in transportation, infrastructure, logistics, etc..;
  • information and technology, resulting from lack of information and technical or digital interference.

Our diet matters to the EU food system

As the results of the study indicate, there will be changes in the structure of proteins from different sources in the diet in the coming years. It is expected that by 2035. the amount of meat consumed per capita will fall by 1.6 kg (about 1 percent). Changes in consumption patterns, particularly by reducing animal products in the diet, will help reduce imports of feed from third countries. Promoting healthier eating as part of the European Cancer Plan and the Farm to Table strategy will remain important for the food system.

Nevertheless, zoonotic products will continue to account for about 60 percent of total protein consumption, the study indicates. Projections for EU agriculture through 2035 indicate a reduction in the consumption of beef, pork and dairy products by 5 percent, 2 percent and 7 percent, respectively. At the same time, the consumption of poultry meat is expected to increase by about 2 percent and eggs by 3 percent over the same period. Regardless of the study, it is worth pointing out that the production of meat, milk and other animal products involves a higher water footprint than plant production.

Some conclusions relating to the dependence of the EU food system

Pork requires the largest amount of soybeans per kilogram of edible products, the second largest demand is for chicken. The grain sector is heavily dependent on imported raw materials, such as energy sources needed for fertilizer production. During the peak of gas prices in the summer of 2022, it accounted for up to 90 percent of the variable cost of producing nitrogen fertilizer. This resulted in a 149 percent increase in their prices for EU farmers between September 2021 and September 2022.

Regardless of the importation of raw materials for fertilizer production, the study indicates, finished products also enter the EU. These are nitrogen fertilizers sourced mainly from Russia, Egypt and Algeria. Those based on phosphate are imported primarily from Morocco and Russia, while potassium chloride is imported from Russia and Belarus. When it comes to reducing the EU’s dependence on imported raw materials and diversifying sources, the study notes that there are ways that can be implemented. Trade and strategic partnerships, the EU enlargement program and strategic stockpiling were mentioned here.

The publication highlights the potential benefits of Ukraine’s accession to the EU, given its status as a leading producer and exporter of raw materials and agricultural products, particularly protein crops and cereals. The study also indicated that the EU should seek to increase domestic production of key raw materials through research, technological development and agricultural innovation. More efficient use of natural resources and raw materials and improved crop productivity, as well as implementation of a closed-loop economy, should also be added to the priorities.

The researchers also considered the role of the Farm-to-Table strategy in making the Union less dependent on imports by increasing the share of organic farming and reducing fertilizer use. According to the report’s authors, these goals can only be achieved through full implementation and enforcement of relevant environmental and climate legislation. It also stressed that support for organic farming should not significantly reduce food production in the EU, as this could lead to further imports from third countries.

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