Trust in the food system

As you’ve have seen, the food system involves several activities and processes. However, consumers place trust in people or organisations [1]; so who are the key groups of people involved in the production, selling and regulation of food?

Who are the main people involved in the food system?

There are a lot of people who work in the European food system. There are over 500 million consumers and the number of people working in the six main food sectors to provide them with their food is shown in the figure below:

infographic showing the 6 sectors and the number of people working- Input industry 47000, farmers 11.989,000, fishers and aquafarmers 98,000, food & drink manufacturers 289 000, wholesale and suppliers 208000 and retail services 255000. Consumers 505,572,000

Figure 1: Numbers of people in the EU food system 2013/2014 [2] ©European Environment Agency EEA.

These different groups do the following:

  • Input industry: this group includes crop breeders and input suppliers who supply raw material (such as seeds, farming machinery, pesticides, fertilisers) to the producers eg farmers and fisheries. These ‘input suppliers’ can be large global companies[3].

  • Farmers, horticulturists and agricultural labourers: produce food through agriculture; so either in the cultivation of plants or in the breeding of animals (or both). Farming businesses range from small firms to very large corporates. The distinction between small and large farms is not clear-cut but according to 2013 data of the European commission, farms of less than 5 hectares/holding (66% of EU farms) are considered to be small compared to the average farm size of 16.1 hectares/land in all member states[4].

  • Fishermen/aquafarmers: produce food through seafood handling and/or harvesting. Seafood, which includes both fish and shellfish, can originate either from the oceans or from farms in purpose-built aquaculture facilities.

  • Food and drink manufacturers: also known as the processing actors or the food and drink industry [5]; food and drink manufacturers transform raw material into higher value or ready-to-eat food. It is the EU’s largest manufacturing sector with respect to value addition and job creation [6,7]. One of the European commission’s objectives is to ensure EU food manufacture is competitive. Thus, a forum titled Higher Level Forum for a Better Functioning Food Chain, was established which focuses on sustainability and price [8].

  • Wholesale and suppliers: form part of the distribution sector [5] and are typically the intermediaries between farmers and organisations (ie retailers and services). They usually supply food in larger quantities to these organisations, rather than to consumers directly. However, their strength has diminished within the last two decades, with the growth of the retail sector [9].

  • Retail and services: this group is involved with selling food or offering food-related services particularly to the consumer. Also part of the distribution sector, the retail and services sector is powerful and largely in control of activities in the food and drink manufacturing sector. Examples of retailers and services include supermarkets and catering establishments respectively. Retail and services may source food directly from primary producers ie farmers and fishermen/aquafarmers or from wholesale and suppliers [9].

Regulators in the food system

The food system in the EU is regulated/legislated by the EU Food law (Regulation 178/2002).

These laws are important to ensure safe handling of our food from farm to fork across EU Member States [6]. Foods imported from outside the EU also have to comply with the EU food law [10]. The EU has systems that can trace food through the system and can take action if any risks to the public are detected. The General Food Law also establishes the principle of risk analysis which involves three parts:

  • risk assessment (which is an independent and science-based assessment)
  • risk management (to determine policy options and any necessary actions)
  • risk communication to all parties.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is a European agency funded by the EU [11]. It’s responsible for conducting the risk assessments and providing independent scientific advice on risks to the public linked to food.

There are also national laws and regulations that are in place within each country. Consumers are further protected by activities and checks made by independent institutions (such as the Food Standards Agency in the UK) [10] as well as other assessors, such as assurance or certification scheme inspectors. All of this independent regulation, monitoring and assessment is necessary to ensure that consumers can have trust in the food system.

The full list of references can be found under ‘Downloads’ and further reading is provided under ‘See also’ – both found at the bottom of this Step.

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This article is from the free online course:

Trust in Our Food: Understanding Food Supply Systems

EIT Food