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Strengthening European Food Chain Sustainability by Quality and Procurement Policy

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - Strength2Food (Strengthening European Food Chain Sustainability by Quality and Procurement Policy)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-05-31

Strength2Food is a five-year project to improve the effectiveness of EU agricultural product quality policy and Public Sector Food Procurement (PSFP), and stimulate the development of Short Food Supply Chains (SFSC). The specific objectives of Strength2Food are to:

a) Aid policy makers and stakeholders in improving the effectiveness of food quality designations and PSFP to enhance their sustainability;
b) Develop and deliver effective policies for improving the overall sustainability of agriculture and capacity for balanced nutrition;
c) Demonstrate and validate how to stimulate the development of new quality markets and local food chains;
d) Maximise the impact of the project’s activities and achievements through effective knowledge exchange and communication.
Key results regarding the 4 objectives:

Objective A. Application of an innovative methodology to assess the sustainability and related impacts (economic, social, environmental and nutritional) of EU FQS, PSFP policies and SFSC; Econometric analysis of farmers’ engagement in FQS chains and impact on farm performance, price transmission and volatility, and trade flows. Project results from 29 case studies across 14 countries suggest that FQS products are more generally sustainable than non-designated equivalent reference products. Successful GIs contribute to strengthening rural economies and creating job opportunities. GIs positively affect export unit values and extensive and intensive margins. The analysis of PSFP across 5 countries suggests that their carbon footprint depends more on the composition of the meals (e.g. red meat quantity), than the model of procurement per se. Local economic multiplier effects of PSFP can be high, depending on the percentage of budgets spent locally. Results from 12 studied SFSC initiatives across 7 countries indicate that SFSC are economically advantageous for farmers. However, SFSCs may have a relatively high carbon footprint.

Objective B. 2 Pan-European consumer surveys testing consumer evaluation and confidence in FQS; Ethnographic fieldwork on consumers’ valuation and practices concerning FQS and SFSC; Virtual supermarket experiment to evaluate marketing strategies of FQS; Nutritional composition analysis for school meals, analysis of plate waste and nutritional intake across 5 European countries. Results indicate that the recognition of EU FQS labels varies considerably across countries but is generally poor for PDO/PGI/TSG. National labels are often better recognised. Recognition is a necessary pre-cursor for consumers using FQS labels in their food choices. Knowledge regarding what labels certify is generally low. Modification of the EU organic logo could improve consume use. In schools, nutritional losses that occur due to plate waste are substantial, with a large gap between intended nutrition and actual pupil intake.

Objective C. Implementation of 6 pilot implementation and demonstration initiatives to improve PSFP of school meals, FQS, and SFSC in selected regions across Europe. Pilot studies offer lessons for improving school meal procurement, utilising local organic suppliers, increasing sales of local foods when retailed against cheaper imported alternatives, improving training for producer consortia, stimulating short food supply chains, and enhancing consumer engagement with farmers’ markets.

Objective D. Effective consolidated communication and dissemination plan via a strong project identity; knowledge exchange platform; communication to relevant audiences, including general audience/ consumers, agri-food supply chain practitioners, schools (including schoolchildren, parents and meal planners), policy makers, and scientific community; extensive social media engagement; 15 hybrid forums organised for multi-actor communication across 7 European countries; 5 training activities delivered; knowledge-exchange and wider outreach via the Stakeholder Advisory Board. MOOC. Set of tools for practitioners and use in schools. Nutritional guidelines and healthy living resources prepared for schools.
Strength2Food research established that European Food Quality Schemes (FQS), including Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), and organic, generate, overall, superior socio-economic outcomes compared to comparative, non-protected equivalents. Benefits include higher margins for producers, better paying jobs, and higher local economic multiplier effects. Econometric evidence indicates that FQS aid exports and help producers capture premium international markets. FQS products are also subject to less price volatility and asymmetric price transmission. However, the carbon and water footprints of PDO/PGI products are often comparable to those of non-certified similar products. In some countries, the registration process for PDO/PGI has been too top down and lacked sufficient end user and retailer consultation, leading to disappointing outcomes, but this can be corrected.

Cross-national survey work establishes that European consumers’ recognition and understanding of PDO and PGI labels remains low, limiting their use by consumers. However, Strength2Food research documents how trust in, and consequently use of, FQS labels can be improved through communication of third-party verification arrangements, and logo modification.

Regarding public sector food procurement (PSFP), local sourcing systems generate substantially higher local economic multipliers. High levels of plate waste (circa 30%) affects, however, PSFP, so that schoolchildren’s food intake often falls short of recommended nutritional guidelines. Research in Croatian schools demonstrates that food waste can be cut through: improvements to layout, extending mealtimes, portion size control, and engagement of staff. The carbon footprint of PSFP depends most on use of ruminant meats in meals, rather than the procurement model. Research with Serbian schools demonstrates ways to increase the nutritional composition of meals, cut carbon emissions, and switch to organic fruit and vegetables for only a very modest increase in cost.

Short food supply chains (SFSCs) generate a host of benefits to producers: capturing a larger proportion of the added value, better bargaining power and relationships with end consumers, higher trust, and greater job satisfaction. However, many SFSCs are small-scale and to grow they require collective efforts to improve convenience and service elements. Field research demonstrates that sales of local foods can be increased in supermarkets through aide memoire point of sale materials. SFSCs’ carbon footprints can be higher than “long chains” but co-operation in logistics can cut emissions.

Overall, efforts to grow FQS, improve the quality of PSFP, and stimulate SFSCs can and do lead to meaningful economic, social, and environmental benefits.
S2F Final Conference
S2F logo
S2F Webinar on FQS
S2F Bonn 4th Interim Meeting
S2F Book on FQS sustainability
S2F 5th Meeeting