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Food chains: is local more sustainable?

The GLAMUR European project that ended in 2016 aimed at integrating advancement in scientific knowledge on the impact of food chains, to increase food chain sustainability through public policies and private strategies.

Etal de fruits et légumes d'un supermarché.. © INRA, SLAGMULDER Christian
By Françoise Maxime
Updated on 10/20/2016
Published on 06/25/2016

We are increasingly aware that the type of food we choose to buy and where it comes from impact our health, the environment, local economies and societies. However how do we assess the impact of one food chain or another? Is it posible to compare local and global chains that operate in many different contexts? What indicators may be proposed?
To address these issues, the GLAMUR project examined and assessed the complexity of food chain performance in multiple dimensions: economic, social, environmental, health, ethical.

A comparative approach

The project was based on a comparative approach:

  • between methods of sustainabilty analysis, from life cycle analysis to participatory assessment,
  • between local and global chains for 8 different products (among them tomato and wine for the French part),
  • between 11 European countries and different national contexts.

GLAMUR allowed:

  • to assess how performance is perceived by stakeholders in different national contexts through participatory assessment and multicriteria analysis of the different typologies of food chains;
  • to build a database of quantifiable indicators of impact and a set of case studies aimed at understanding how impacts are generated within specific food chains;
  • to develop and validate a performance criteria matrix for assessing and comparing food chains operating at a range of geographical scales through analysis of how food chain impacts are communicated in different spheres of society;
  • to advance knowledge on methodological problems and trade-offs arising when measuring and comparing the impact of food chains within and between sectors.

Thinking beyond global versus local

The GLAMUR project shows that the local and global dimensions combine within a local-global continuum of food chains, providing various contributions to sustainability. Scale matters and improves performance for some sustainability attributes, not for others. As a result, sustainability performance assessment needs to detect when coexistence of local and global food chains create complementarities and synergies. By exploiting the dynamics of this hybridity it can be a tool for encouraging transition to sustainability and further progress in all situations.

Scientific contact(s):

Associated Division(s):
Science for Action and Development
Associated Centre(s):

The GLAMUR project

GLAMUR - Global and Local food chain Assessment: a MUltidimensional performance-based approach - was funded under the European programme FP7-KBBE (Knowledge Based Bio-Economy) between 2013 and 2016. The project was coordinated by Wageningen University and involved partners from 11 European countries. The French contribution was coordinated by Jean-Marc Touzard and Yuna Chiffoleau (UMR Innovation, Montpellier).

The final seminar of the project was held on 21-22 January 2016 in Brussels.

The main GLAMUR results were published in a special issue of the journal Sustainability : Sustainability Performance of Conventional and Alternative Food Chains (mai 2016)