Official Journal of the European Union

C 332/28

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘An EU Industrial Policy for the Food and Drinks Sector’

(2015/C 332/04)





On 10 July 2014 the European Economic and Social Committee, acting under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw up an own-initiative opinion on the:

Food and Drinks Sector.

The Consultative Commission on Industrial Change, which was responsible for preparing the Committee’s work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 4 May 2015.

At its 508th plenary session, held on 27 and 28 May 2015 (meeting of 27 May), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 151 votes to 1 with 5 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.   Conclusions

1.1.1.   Trends

Between now and 2050 key demographic trends will include a growing and ageing population, urbanisation and growing inequality. ‘By 2050 the world’s population will reach 9,1 billion, 34 % higher than today. Nearly all of this population increase will occur in developing countries. Urbanisation will continue at an accelerated pace, and about 70 % of the world’s population will be urban (compared to 49 % today). But to cope with the resultant increase in demand, food production (net of food used for biofuels) must increase by 70 %’ (1).

1.1.2.   The role of the European food and drink industry

The European food and drink industry will have to develop its strategy for development in an environment of modest economic growth, less natural resources, structurally high commodity and energy prices and difficult access to capital. Innovation will be at the centre of its competitiveness.

In this context, the sector has to be geared to meet the challenges ahead. This EESC opinion targets key policy areas that need to be addressed to create a more business-friendly environment. These should enable the food and drink industry to achieve a sustainable growth, innovate and create jobs whilst continuing to provide consumers with safe, nutritious, high quality and affordable food.

1.1.3.   The call for a sector-specific industrial policy for the European food and drink industry

The EESC strongly favours a sector-specific industrial policy for the European food and drink industry tailored to its specific needs. It believes that this can be achieved through a renewed mandate of the High Level Forum for a better functioning supply chain for the period 2015-2019 whose mandate came to an end on 31 December 2014.

1.2.   Recommendations

The EESC draws the attention of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council and Member States’ governments, to the priority areas listed below for the further progress of the European Food and Drinks Industry. It also draws the attention of companies operating in this sector to the initiatives and action needed on their part.

1.2.1.   Progress on completion of Internal Market

The EU Commission and Member States should work towards completing a Single Market ensuring the free movement of food and drink products. This is a precondition to improve the competitive performance of food and drink companies in the EU, which does not necessarily mean adopting additional legislation but taking steps for better implementation of existing rules.

The Commission should map and monitor progress regarding:

the ongoing REFIT exercise led by the Commission. This should contribute to the completion of the Single Market for food without losing sight of existing standards in the conditions of employment of workers;

the recent CAP reform that needs to be implemented without creating distortions of competition among Members States and in a way that stimulates sustainable production;

the EU Apprentice Pledge. This requires the full support of Member States in its implementation.

1.2.2.   International facilitation of trade in foods and drinks

In line with its 4 January 2010 opinion Trade and Food Security (2), the EESC recalls that food security must remain a key objective in any ongoing global trade negotiations.

EU negotiating strategies at international level should seek to eliminate tariffs for EU exports and facilitate trade through the implementation of internationally recognised standards in the countries with the highest trade expansion potential. The Commission should:

seek a favourable conclusion of significant EU trade deals still pending (notably USA, Japan and South Asian partners) as these can bring considerable advantages to EU food and drink producers;

monitor the implementation of trade agreements in force;

strive for a better coordination between bilateral and plurilateral agreements;

ensure reciprocity of treatment both in the lowering of tariff barriers and in the elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) and ensure that existing EU standards of consumer, environment and health protection are maintained.

The EU Commission should increase its support for SMEs to become more internationalised. Public support remains essential in order to:

create favourable export conditions by eliminating barriers to trade;

facilitate access to trade finance (export credit and insurance);

support export promotion based on public-private collaboration;

collect information about import requirements in third countries and convey it to the representative association of SMEs.

1.2.3.   Initiatives by the food and drink sector itself aimed at strengthening human resources and consolidating employment

There is a crying need for the industry itself to improve its image especially with young people. The need to recruit a higher quality of human resources should be backed by:

more high quality sector-based labour market information available across Member States to help address the problem of asymmetric information between employers and potential employees; and to identify and correct any skills mismatches;

validation of the courses of study in higher education institutions on a regular basis with the inclusion of food and drink industry representatives to maintain relevance of vocational education sector;

apprenticeship programmes to be opened to all new recruits to the food and drink sector not exclusively to young people. This is especially important in unlocking the potential of women returners and older workers seeking to change career;

means and resources for training and life-long learning to have a qualified workforce. In this regards, social dialogue is a fundamental element.

The EESC encourages the establishment of a food KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Community) in the food and drink sector as it not only represents an essential commitment of increasing R & D investment by 2020 but it also is a strong contributor for increasing jobs and growth.

Finally, the EESC highlights the importance of:

the protection of European workers and consumers rights;

full and effective ratification, implementation and enforcement of ILO fundamental standards;

European quality standards in the food and drink sector.

1.2.4.   Ensuring a sustainable food supply chain

The EESC would like to reiterate that it is advantageous to promote sustainable consumption and production closely with the implementation of the Roadmap to a resource Efficient Europe (3) and encourages the Member States to implement these policies via the Roadmap and the European Semester (4). The EESC would therefore like to see a holistic plan towards the achievement of sustainability of the food chain. The EESC calls on the Commission to adopt a Communication on ‘Sustainability of Food Systems’.

The EESC should give full publicity at the EXPO Milan fair of the recommendations of this and other opinions concluded in recent months on food.

1.2.5.   Food waste

The EESC reiterates its opinion (5) affirming the need for a definition, a common and globally aligned EU methodology to quantify food losses and food waste, including recycling and recovery of unsold food. However, it considers that steps need to be taken without waiting to see the results of EU and global research projects currently underway. Such steps include raising awareness on food wastage along the food chain and contribution to the development and dissemination of best practices.

Any future industrial policy for the food and drink sector should reflect a balanced approach and address food wastage prevention: Food wastage prevention policies should take a food chain approach from pre-harvest stage to the consumers.

There should also be a good look at taxation policy (VAT) and coordination of action in Member States to facilitate donations to food banks as one of the tools to curb food wastage.

1.2.6.   Supply chain fair practice

The EESC continues to promote cultural change in business relations in order to have fair trading practices along the agri-food chain as in its opinion on 9 May 2013 (6) and therefore welcomes the efforts that have been undertaken by both distributors and food and drink manufacturers for developing a voluntary initiative to promote fair business relations along the food supply chain (SCI — Supply Chain Initiative (7)).

1.2.7.   R & D and innovation

The food sector is facing key challenges with limited R & D funding. The EESC believes there is a need for R & D to be clearly targeted and for industry to be a key partner in identifying how this should be done. Moreover, to be successful and accepted, the EESC believes that innovation should be based in particular on consumer expectations.

1.2.8.   SMEs in the food and drink sector

The costs of compliance with EU legislation for SMEs are particularly burdensome. Frequent changes and lack of harmonisation, for example concerning labelling requirements, create burdens and obstacles to growth. The EESC believes that special attention should be given to the specific needs of SMEs, in particular to reduce the administrative burden but calls for caution regarding exemptions especially those concerning food safety for SMEs since that could have a negative effect and drive them out of the market.


The EESC urges the Commission to produce a report, evaluating whether to provide information on ingredients and nutritional content of alcoholic beverages.

2.   The present situation of the european food and drink industry


The European food and drink industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the EU economy generating an annual turnover of over EUR 1 trillion and employing directly 4,25 million workers in the EU. It is also part of a value chain which employs altogether 32 million people and generates 7 % of EU GDP. SMEs account for 99,1 % of companies in the food and drink industry (8).


The share of private R & D investment is 0,27 % of the industry’s turnover. The 2012 Joint Research Centre (JRC) Scoreboard confirmed trends observed in previous years, in particular that the EU has sustained levels of private R & D but is still lagging behind its international peers (9).


The Food and Drink Industry processes 70 % of EU agricultural produce and provides safe, quality and nutritious food to European consumers.


In 2012 worldwide exports from Europe of processed food and drink products were worth EUR 86,2 billion (10) making it the largest global exporter in the sector. Moreover, the EU trade balance registered a record surplus of EUR 23 billion on 2012. Over the past 20 years trade in food and drink products between Member States has increased threefold to approximately EUR 450 billion (11).


The sector is a non-cyclical and resilient pillar of the economy with a strong presence in all Member States, and is undoubtedly an important contributor in the effort by European manufacturing industry to expand its share of GDP to 20 % set by the European Commission in the context of the EU 2020 Strategy (12). The EESC confirms its support and reiterates its recommendation that this target be complemented with an emphasis on the qualitative aspect (13).


Key competitiveness indicators show, however, that the sector is losing its competitive edge. In the context of increased global demand, export market share decreased year on year (export value 2012: 16,1 % compared to 20,5 % in 2002 (14).


This EESC own-initiative opinion strives at putting special focus on the food and drink sector by indicating those measures necessary to reverse this negative trend and to enhance the sector’s competitiveness both in the Internal Market and worldwide.


Consumers are entitled to receive truthful and balanced information about alcoholic drinks, to help them make informed decisions about their consumption. All alcoholic beverages, irrespective of their alcohol content, should be covered by the same rules. The EESC urges the Commission to produce without delay the report required in Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 by December 2014, evaluating whether alcoholic beverages should in future be covered by the requirement to provide information on ingredients and nutritional content.

3.   Efforts for increased industrial activity in europe

3.1.   Initiatives by European Institutions

The Competitiveness Council acknowledged the contribution that all industrial sectors can make to the European economy and encouraged sectoral initiatives by the Commission (15).

This was closely followed by an EU Commission communication ‘For an European Industrial Renaissance’ (COM(2014) 14)  (16). Two months later in March 2014 the Summit of EU Heads of State and Government also emphasised ‘the need for Europe to develop its industrial base, stressed the importance of a stable, simple and predictable regulatory environment and agreed that industrial competitiveness concerns should be mainstreamed across all policy areas’ (17).

In the meantime the High Level Forum (HLF) (18) for a Better Functioning Food Supply Chain set up in 2009 by the EU Commissioner for Industry and entrepreneurship issued its final report. Its recommendations for the development of an industrial policy in the agro-food sector were adopted unanimously (19) at its last meeting on 15 October 2014. These were taken into consideration in this EESC opinion.

The EESC is now looking forward to giving its contribution to additional initiatives taken by the EU Commission, including its presence at the Milan Expo this year with food security as a central theme of its pavilion. There is also a study that should be published by October 2015 concerning the competitive position of the EU food and drink industry.

The EESC also notes that the EXPO Milan Fair, that has just opened its doors, has as its theme ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’. The European Commission is encouraging debate on how Science and Innovation can contribute to global food Security and Sustainability. This presents a great opportunity for the EESC to present to the public for debate its views emerging from this and other opinions finalised in recent months on food. The stand of the EU Commission at EXPO presents the ideal venue where this debate could be held at one or more information seminars organised for the purpose.

3.2.   Food producers take joint decisions with Trade Unions

In March 2014 FoodDrinkEurope and EFFAT (European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions) signed a joint statement on the need for sectoral action at European level in respect of the food and drink sector

4.   Key pillars for action: shaping an industrial policy for the european food and drink sector

4.1.   Working towards a better functioning food supply chain in the Single Market for food and drinks


EU food legislation is highly harmonised and the sector benefits significantly from the opportunities offered by the Internal Market. Trade between Member States has grown significantly over the last decade and currently accounts for about 20 % of EU food and beverage production. However, businesses still report different interpretation and implementation of EU food standards legislation. Further integration would open up new opportunities for growth (20).

Improving relations in the food supply chain is also essential to ensure a competitive food and drink sector (21).


The work of the EU Commission, to monitor the effectiveness of the European Supply Chain Initiative (22) (SCI) as well as the enforcement of rules at national level, is paramount (23). The SCI is an important joint voluntary initiative established by stakeholder organisations across the food supply chain. It provides a system for improving business relationships between them and to find solutions to any disagreements arising in their commercial relations.

4.2.   Promoting sustainable employment and labour productivity


In an effort to improve workforce skills in the sector EFFAT and FoodDrinkEurope adopted a joint report in 2013 outlining the training and skill policies required in order to meet the labour market challenges (24).


They also launched of the ‘Youth Apprenticeship Pledge for the food and drink industry’ (25) aimed to facilitate the uptake of high quality apprenticeships in food and drink companies across the EU, especially by SMEs.

4.3.   Reinforcing international trade


With a positive trade balance of EUR 23 billion in 2012, the EU remains the leading exporter of food and drink products despite its shrinking market share in the global food and drink trade. In turn, countries such as China and Brazil have been continuously increasing their export market share in recent years (26).


Notwithstanding a general recognition that food security is paramount (27), export expansion is one of the key sources of growth for any industry. With the percentage of wealthy populations in emerging countries growing, the industry should be equipped to respond to the expansion of world demand.


A meaningful multilateral agreement in the WTO would have been the most efficient solution for opening markets, but successive rounds of talks failed to reach comprehensive agreement.


Bilateral trade deals have therefore gained significant importance and achieved results for European Industry in general and the food and drink sector in particular. In the ongoing TTIP negotiations both tariff and non-tariff barriers (NTBs) should be tackled with an emphasis on reciprocity of treatment for food and drink products from Europe; but should not in any way jeopardise European Consumers interest. The outcome should lead to significant gains for the European agri-food sector (28).


The EU’s Promotion policy is a good tool to help capitalise on the positive image of European agri-food products worldwide and communicate the key attributes of European foodstuffs.

4.4.   Contributing to sustainable production and consumption


As stated in its 2012 opinion (29)‘Sustainable consumption and production, offering products and services of better value and using fewer natural resources, is at the heart of strategies for increasing resource efficiency and promoting a green economy’.


European food and drink industries depend on access to adequate quantities of agricultural raw materials that follow specific quality criteria and that are competitively priced.


One of the major challenges is food waste: about 90 million tonnes of food is wasted annually along the European food chain. Whenever food is wasted, resources used to produce food such as raw materials, water, fertilisers and fuel are also wasted. Some key initiatives gave rise to a number of partnerships with relevant stakeholders like the ‘Every Crumb Counts’ campaign and the publishing of a Tool Kit for the industry. An EESC opinion approved in 2013 on the prevention and reduction of Food Waste had provided an insight into the problems and the possible solutions in this regards (NAT/570).


The European Commission recommended that the food sector be considered a priority area for more resource efficiency and has performed an in-depth consultation on the sustainability of the European food system (30).


Sustainability should be looked at from a broader perspective not focusing only on environmental sustainability, but also including social and economic pillars of sustainability. This has been the case in a joint declaration adopted by 11 organisations representing the food chain in the context of the HLF (31).

4.5.   Building an Innovative Union


Levels of investment in R & D in the food and drink sector in the EU are low compared to other manufacturing subsectors and to other food and drink industries worldwide (32).


KICs in the food and drink sector need to be encouraged and supported. KICs address a long-term horizon of 7-15 years while also meeting certain short and mid-term objectives such as the essential commitment of increasing R & D investment by 2020 and contributing towards increasing jobs and growth.

Food and drink companies face endless problems when introducing innovative products and processes. SMEs suffer most because of limited organisation and resource capacities, and through lack of the necessary managerial competencies, experience and strategic vision. Authorisation procedures for placing new products on the market need to be speeded up, whilst respecting the precautionary principle of always putting on the market only those products that are safe for consumers’ health.

4.6.   Reducing administrative burdens especially for SMEs


SMEs in particular suffer from a proliferation of structures that result in unnecessary administrative burdens. These play a key part in the sector’s competitiveness and therefore need special attention without prejudice to food safety or workers’ and consumers’ rights.


In the context of REFIT, the Commission has undertaken an important step in ensuring that EU legislation is suitable for business and enhances competitiveness (33).

Brussels, 27 May 2015.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/expert_paper/How_to_Feed_the_World_in_2050.pdf

(2)  OJ C 255, 22.9.2010, p. 1.

(3)  COM(2011) 571 final.

(4)  OJ C 191, 29.6.2012, p. 6.

(5)  OJ C 161, 6.6.2013, p. 46.

(6)  EESC opinion on the current state of commercial relations between food suppliers and the large retail sector published in OJ C 133, 9.5.2013, p. 16.

(7)  http://www.supplychaininitiative.eu/

(8)  Source: Data and Trends of the European Food and Drink Industry 2013-14.


(9)  Source: 2012 EU Industrial R & D Investment Scoreboard, JRC and DG RTD.

(10)  http://www.fooddrinkeurope.eu/uploads/publications_documents/Data__Trends_of_the_European_Food_and_Drink_Industry_2013-20141.pdf

(11)  http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/publications/docs/20years/achievements-web_en.pdf

(12)  http://ec.europa.eu/about/juncker-commission/docs/pg_en.pdf

(13)  EESC opinion on Industrial Renaissance (OJ C 311, 12.9.2014, p. 47).

(14)  Source UN Comtrade 2012.

(15)  http://register.consilium.europa.eu/doc/srv?l=EN&f=ST%2017202%202013%20INIT

(16)  http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:52014DC0014

(17)  http://register.consilium.europa.eu/doc/srv?l=EN&t=PDF&gc=true&sc=false&f=ST%207%202014%20INIT

(18)  http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2010:210:0004:0005:EN:PDF

(19)  http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-1139_en.htm

(20)  http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:52014SC0014

(21)  EESC opinion published in OJ C 133, 9.5.2013, p. 16.

(22)  http://www.supplychaininitiative.eu/

(23)  COM(2014) 472.

(24)  http://www.effat.org/en/node/10599

(25)  http://ec.europa.eu/education/policy/vocational-policy/doc/alliance/fooddrinkeurope-effat-pledge_en.pdf

(26)  http://www.fooddrinkeurope.eu/uploads/publications_documents/Data__Trends_of_the_European_Food_and_Drink_Industry_2013-20141.pdf

(27)  OJ C 255, 22.9.2010, p. 1.

(28)  See Copa-Cogeca and FoodDrinkEurope joint position http://www.fooddrinkeurope.eu/news/statement/agri-food-chain-reps-call-on-negotiators-to-resolve-non-tariff-measures-in/

(29)  OJ C 191, 29.6.2012, p. 6.

(30)  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eussd/food.htm

(31)  Joint 7 March 2014 declaration ‘Actions towards a more sustainable European food chain’ http://www.fooddrinkeurope.eu/news/press-release/europes-food-chain-partners-working-towards-more-sustainable-food-systems/

(32)  See footnote 15.

(33)  http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-682_en.htm