Be it amazing apple strudel in Austria, fabulous fish and chips in the U.K., savory smørrebrød in Denmark, tasty tapas in Spain, or “zelicious” zabaglione in Italy, Europe abounds from A to Z with a rich and vibrant culinary culture as diverse as its 50-some countries. The birthplace of Western culture, Europe has played a dominant role in global affairs for several centuries, so it’s no surprise this dynamic continent famous for great food is a world leader in food quality and safety today.
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The food industry sector is one of the largest and most important manufacturing sectors in Europe. It is the second largest (after metal) in the manufacturing industry, with 14.5 percent of total manufacturing turnover, €917 billion ($1,012,368,000,000) for the European Union (EU). Employment in the food industry represents about 14 percent of the total manufacturing sector. More than 70 percent of the agricultural goods produced in the EU are used to be transformed into food industry products.
Not to be confused with Europe, the world’s second-smallest continent, the EU is the politico-economic organization of 28 sovereign member states that are located primarily in Europe. The noteworthy independent European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is the keystone of EU risk assessment regarding food and feed safety.
The EU reports that its entire food sector, including agriculture, employs close to 50 million people, generating approximately 6 percent of total EU gross domestic product.
Europe’s food market is comprised of approximately 310,000 companies, and 4.8 million employees, according to the European Commission (EC), the executive body of the EU, which characterizes most of these companies as small in scale, with few being able to compete on the global market.
The EC further describes the European food industry as fragmented, noting on its website that there are a few European multinational companies competing worldwide with a wide variety of products, but 99 percent of all enterprises in the food sector are small and medium sized.
As the world’s largest food exporter (20.8 percent) and second largest food importer (18.1 percent), the EU has entered a number of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements with non-EU countries. Setting what it considers extremely high safety standards on all its exports, the EU touts itself as a major international trade standard setter.
According to the EU, in all its member states and many third countries (meaning all countries outside of the EU; the EU considers the U.S. a third country), the overarching principles concerning food safety and consumer protection are established in national legislation.
The EU says European legislation is very important for the food sector, which it claims is one of the most comprehensively regulated sectors, with almost 98 percent of all laws harmonized at the EU level. However, at the EU level, food legislation has evolved without some of these basic principles having been established in an overarching legal instrument.
Thus on Jan. 28, 2002, the European Parliament (the EU’s 751-member directly elected parliamentary institution with legislative functions) and the European Council (which comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states) adopted Regulation (EC)178/2002, also known as the General Food Law Regulation, which lays down definitions, principles, and obligations covering all stages of food/feed production and distribution.
The EC says the aim of the General Food Law Regulation is to provide a framework to ensure a coherent approach in the development of food legislation, while providing the general framework for those areas not covered by specific harmonized rules but where the functioning of the EU internal market is ensured by mutual recognition. (Created in 1993, the internal market of the EU is a single market in which the free movement of goods, services, capital, and persons is ensured and in which European citizens are free to live, work, study, and do business.)