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This content is taken from the EIT Food, Queen's University Belfast & European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)'s online course, Panic-Buying During Crisis: How Do Food Supply Chains Cope?. Join the course to learn more.

Mapping the Agri-Food Chain

We will begin the course by mapping the agri-food chain and exploring the key activities which take place ‘from farm-to-fork’.

The agri-food chain encompasses the individuals and/or businesses involved in the agricultural production and processing of food, encompassing production, processing, storage, trading, distribution and consumption.

Who are the Main Actors in the Food Chain?

There are many actors in the agri-food chain who ensure our food moves From Farm-to-Fork (Figure 1).

The Agri-Food Chain ©EUFIC Figure 1: The Agri-Food Chain (The European Food Information Council - EUFIC)

Primary Producers

The first stage of the food chain is the primary production of crops and animals from agriculture; and fishing or harvesting of seafood from the wild fisheries or aquaculture. Once crops, animals and their by-products are harvested, collected or slaughtered, they are handled with care and transported to the next player or stage of the food chain.

Processors and Packaging

Food processing refers to the stages raw ingredients go through in order to prepare, preserve or change it into something new and fit for human consumption. This can include a combination of various processes.

There are a number of different types of processors in the food chain.

  • Primary processors: turn raw materials, such as wheat kernels or livestock into a form which is safe for human consumption. Primary processing includes: cutting, cleaning, packaging, storage and refrigeration of raw foods. For example: gutting, grading and icing of fish; or cutting and trimming animals for meat. These minimally processed foods retain their original properties of their unprocessed form, i.e. nutrition, physical, sensory and chemical properties.

  • Secondary processors: turn the minimally processed product into more useful or edible forms. Secondary food products are refined, purified, extracted or transformed from minimally processed foods, for example cheese, flours, edible oils, sugars / sweeteners and starches. Secondary processing includes: physical processes such as pressing, milling and dehydration; and chemical processes such as hydrolysis, hydrogenation or using enzymes.

  • Ultra-processed foods: produced by combining primary food products and other secondary food products to create a ready-to-eat food and drink product with high sensory appeal, e.g. cakes, sweets, jams, soft drinks and ready meals.

Some secondary food production processes, such as heat treatment, fermentation and packaging, may be used to extend the shelf-life of the primary food ingredient. Packaging is also important to protect the food product and delay physical, chemical and biological deterioration.

Waste Streams

Waste can now derive a value. It is increasingly used as an alternative product stream to enhance the efficiency and profit of a production system.

For example, the edible and non-edible parts of slaughtered seafood (e.g. meat, internal organs, bloods and soft tissues) are often used for further processing of both edible and non-edible products. These by-products can be sold as raw materials to manufacturing sites to produce: edible products including fish sauce, fish oil, calcium and protein powder, dried fish heads and fish frames for the production of flavour in other fish products; and non-edible products such as fish meal for aquaculture or agriculture; bait; pet food; liquid fertilizer; a source of lactic acid or plastic production.

Distributors

Distributors allow us to transport food safely across the globe from one node in the food system to another. This system involves an advanced network of infrastructure and transportation covering both the physical movement of goods and the processes involved in arranging these product movements.

It is composed of a variety of steps including the collection of food or raw materials from the farmer, storage and warehouses, and the distribution to food manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants and homes before consumption by the final consumer.

Markets

A variety of global customers purchase food produced both nationally and internationally. These customers can receive products directly from primary producers or fishers; primary or secondary producers; or wholesalers, retailers and food service companies:

  • Collectors and auction markets: Used for the first-hand sales

  • Wholesaler commercial merchants: Purchase product in bulk from producers, wholesale marketers, primary processors, secondary processors and importers who subsequently subdivide the products and supply retailers and food service establishments across the country and export to foreign markets for sale to the consumers

  • Retailers: Display the store ready product to the consumers in the desired storage cabinets; or, as fresh fillet products were the consumer chooses the desired product before packaging. These retailers are increasingly dominated by large, centrally managed retailers such as supermarket chains or web-based retailers

  • Food Service: Buy, prepare and sell the product to the end consumer as a component of meals

Consumers

Consumers mark the end of the agri-food chain. Consumers can have an influence on the agri-food chain through their buying choices, strongly influenced by food availability, income and their culture, religion, physical, social and economic surroundings.

What we would like you to do

Please share your thoughts on the following questions:

  • Did you understand the role of each actor in the agri-food chain?
  • Do you feel disconnected from the food chain and where your food is produced?
  • What influences your food choices?

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This article is from the free online course:

Panic-Buying During Crisis: How Do Food Supply Chains Cope?

EIT Food