A multiscale integrated analysis of the factors characterizing the sustainability of food systems in Europe

Juan José Cadillo-Benalcazar*, Ansel Renner, Mario Giampietro

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Considering the existing world population, set of environmental impacts, and predicted changes in dietary trends, one can expect that, in the coming decades, food security will remain high on the list of sustainability concerns. In relation to this challenge, Europe's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must address a diverse set of goals: (i) guarantee a stable and affordable food supply; (ii) preserve the socioeconomic stability of farmers by guaranteeing their economic viability; (iii) protect the environment by reducing pressures on agroecosystems; and (iv) improve food security by reducing import dependence. Policies related to these diverse goals are likely to generate adverse side-effects. A particularly uncomfortable concern is Europe's massive reliance on imported feed commodities. The European Union (EU) is unlikely to be capable of domestically producing currently imported agricultural commodities and a significant move to internalize imports would dramatically increase pressures on local ecosystems. Faced with that potential predicament, it is essential to have a robust information system capable of simultaneously addressing a variety of policy concerns. In response, this paper presents a novel accounting framework—Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism (MuSIASEM)—capable of generating an integrated set of indicators entangled across different scales and dimensions of analysis. Our versatile approach establishes a set of quantitative relations between: (i) the dietary intake of the society (desirability of the food supply); (ii) processes under human control (viability of the food system); (iii) processes outside of human control and associated with external biophysical limits determined by embedding ecosystems (feasibility of the food system); and (iv) the dependence on imported products (food security). The analysis of such relations can be tailored to the legitimate perceptions of different social actors affected by policies, anticipating potential conflicts and providing useful information for deliberation and negotiation. Our approach is illustrated with an analysis of the European agricultural system, covering the EU-27 plus the UK and Norway.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number110944
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • Agriculture
  • Food systems
  • Integrated assessment
  • Relational analysis
  • Sustainability


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