Knowledge for better food systems

Energy use in the EU food sector: state of play and opportunities for improvement – Joint Research Centre Science and Policy Report

This report summarises research from scientific, policy and industrial experiences on energy use in the EU food sector. It acknowledges that while the EU has made progress in incorporating renewable energy across the economy, the share of renewables in the food system remains relatively small. The report discusses the way ahead and highlights the main challenges to be faced in decreasing energy use and in increasing the renewable energy share in the food sector.

It concludes as follows:

“Some main lines of intervention that have been shown or are expected to be especially promising can be listed, such as:

  • greener, more efficient agriculture and low-carbon agriculture;
  • organic farming;
  • R & D to develop innovative farming techniques (e.g. improved irrigation, precision agriculture);
  • local production and consumption of agriculture products, including in the framework of decreasing food-related transport needs;
  • sustainable packaging, including a higher use of renewable materials;
  • increasing the recovery share of food packaging along the entire supply chain for recycling purposes;
  • decreasing the amount of avoidable food waste and improving the recovery (including energy recovery) of both industrial and domestic food residues and waste;
  • increasing the use of renewable energies (e.g. PV, biogas, bio heat, wind) throughout the production chain, especially at farming and industrial levels, including retailing;
  • more efficient appliances, processes and buildings across the entire food supply chain.”

The report authors further state that: “Most of these pathways to a better energy use in the food sector are composed of several ‘atomic’ measures that have been discussed in the report. Taken singularly, these measures have been proven to be useful every time they have been properly applied. Nevertheless, while the overall picture and directions to be taken are relatively clear and rather consensual in the scientific and policy communities, their practical applications must consider the huge diversity of foods, production systems and consumption habits in Europe. Research and implementation has then to continue to take into consideration national and even more local peculiarities in order to properly combine the traditional approach to food preparation with the most updated energysmart techniques.”


Monforti-Ferrario, F., Dallemand, J.-F., Pinedo Pascua, I., Motola, V., Banja, M., Scarlat, N., Medarac, H., Castellazzi, L., Labanca, N. Bertoldi, P., Pennington, D., Goralczyk, M., Schau, E. M., Saouter, E., Sala, S., Notarnicola, B., Tassielli, G., Renzulli. P., Edited by Monforti-Ferrario, F. and Pinedo Pascua, I., Energy use in the EU food sector: state of play and opportunities for improvement (2015) Joint Research Centre Science and Policy Report.

Read the full report here.

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Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering just over 10 million square kilometres or 6.8% of the global land area, but it is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of around 740 million people or about 11% of the world's population. Its climate is heavily affected by warm Atlantic currents that temper winters and summers on much of the continent. In the European Union, farmers represent only 4.7% of the working population, yet manage nearly half of its land area.

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