Joint Research Centre - European Commission

The European Commission's in-house science service
European Commission

Vegetables on a market stall

Short supply chains are more common and diverse in North-western EU countries

New study on short supply chains in the EU agricultural and food sectors


The JRC has just published a new study on the place of short supply chains in the distribution of agricultural and food products in the European Union. It provides policy recommendations to potential legislative proposals on the labelling of products under 'local farming and direct sales' as foreseen by the EU Regulation on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs (No 1151/2012).

Short food supply chains are characterised by a minimal number of intermediaries between the producer and the consumer, allowing the latter to have full information and a direct contact with the producer. In most cases, short food supply chains overlap with the concept of local products. They include many types of organisation schemes, from community-supported agriculture (where consumers support producers and share risks and benefits of food production with them) , on-farm direct sales, sales by farmers at the place of consumption (farmers' markets, delivery schemes, etc.) or sales to collective catering systems (schools, hospitals, etc.).

These kinds of supply chains are present in all member States in the EU, being more common and diverse in North-western EU countries (UK, France, Belgium, etc.) than in other countries, where the focus is more towards farm-driven initiatives. They are often small or micro enterprises coupled with other quality certifications, such as organic production schemes or environmentally-sound agricultural practices.

The report highlights clear evidences of the positive social and economic impacts of such organisations, while they don't necessarily imply a better environmental performance in terms of emissions or waste; however, the fact that short food supply chain schemes owners often voluntarily implement environmentally sound agricultural practices and logistical arrangements may imply an enhanced environmental impact.

Policy recommendations

As a result of a literature review, database and case studies included in the JRC report, it is possible to draw up a number of policy recommendations with regard to a possible labelling scheme.

It seems that 2 elements are considered important for stakeholders in the value chain: 1) The origin and quality of the product – does the consumer know exactly where it comes from, how it was produced and who produced it? 2) The nature of the supply chain e.g., for producers, ensuring the highest share of value added, and for consumers, guaranteeing value for money.

There is thus a potential to use a label and/or logo to signal local farming products and to provide a benchmark to stakeholders in Member States where these short supply chains are less numerous and/or less well established than in others.

On the other hand, in a context of proliferation of labelling schemes, consumers might feel even more confusion with an extra layer. It is necessary to achieve a correct balance between a potential EU approach and the current existing regional schemes. Cost is the other big constraint for such a labelling scheme.

The study also draws attention to other problems of this sector not addressed by a labelling scheme solution, such as the insufficient availability of such products on the market or the cost and organisational barriers to small-scale producers especially in the start-up phase. These would require solutions around logistics, marketing, and public procurement, and the report suggests that the regulating activity should not be restricted to labelling but should include other policy tools such as financial incentives, training and exchange of knowledge and skills or the development of regulatory and administrative frameworks.