82 | North America and Europe (NAE) Report

10. Across much of the NAE, large-scale food retail­ers and processors have a dominant role in determin­ing what people can buy and farmer profits. This has given rise to concern about the impact on competi­tion across the chain and the relatively weak position of farm and food businesses that supply those com­panies. The development of standardized products which can be processed intensively, as well as the imposition of quality/safety standards by retailers and processors, can in­crease monopoly power. However, there is an increasing de­sire among certain consumers to source foods they perceive to have improved quality/safety (e.g., organics, fair-trade), which is providing new opportunities for some farmers.

11. In the last 30 years, a number of food safety break­downs and animal health issues (e.g., Salmonella, E-coli 0157:H7 and BSE) have occurred and have had exten­sive impacts, given the increased scale of agricultural and food production. In response to these breakdowns, most of the NAE region has developed far-reaching regulatory mechanisms (e.g., tools for traceability and biosecurity) to detect and prevent the spread of patho­gens, weeds and pests and for the detection of pes­ticide and chemical residues. Some vertically integrated food chains have developed new forms of governance by setting up articulated systems of quality standards, includ­ing those aimed at increasing food safety and animal welfare. These forms of governance have been used by major food re­tailers in some parts of the NAE as a way to regain consumer confidence after food safety scandals. Some retailers have re­quired farmers to comply with specific farm assurance schemes for quality standards in order to sell their products. This can potentially increase costs and raise barriers for farmers.

12. Many of the applications of AKST in agriculture and food systems have created significant waste streams across the food chain, from post-harvest wastage of raw product to end-consumer packaging. Disposable packaging and creation of uniform products have increased commercial appeal of food products and have contributed to food hygiene, but have also increased costs to local com­munities for disposal.

Social impacts

13. Since 1945, food insecurity across the NAE re­gion has largely been resolved, due to an increasingly wealthy population, decreases in the real prices for food and the substantial increases in food production and productivity. But some sectors of the population across the region remain food insecure (e.g., one in ten households in the US).

14. The needs of labor intensive agricultural systems (such as fruits, vegetables and meat processing) are being met by migrant (largely immigrant) workers.
While this has allowed the survival of these labor intensive agricultural systems within NAE and provided workers with a foothold into richer host countries, it has left these workers vulnerable to exploitation across the NAE. They


typically have poor working and living conditions, low wages and lack rights to organize. In many cases, they have high levels of poverty and in some regions (especially North America), high levels of food insecurity.

15. Despite gains in agricultural productivity, food se­curity and overall wealth, inequities remain in much of the food system. Within NAE populations there are large variances in the degree of rural poverty, access to affordable, nutritious diets and the sharing of benefits from the reorga­nization of the food system and global trade. There has been a growing interest in much of the NAE in "alternative" food systems, in which participants seek to incorporate principles of social, environmental and economic sustainability. These systems are currently still small in scale but are increasing.

16. Obesity and associated diseases (diabetes, car­diovascular diseases and metabolic syndrome) have become an increasing concern across the NAE, partly as a result of inadequate nutrition. This is due to the interaction of various factors: general abundance of food and a high degree of food marketing, lifestyle and dietary choice.  Some nutritional and educational policy changes have recently been instituted, particularly in schools, to ameliorate these trends, but their impact is yet to be evaluated. Despite a situation of overabundance of food, some sections of the population cannot access a sufficiently healthy diet, mostly due to poverty. Some countries are now facing the double burden of food insecurity and nutrition-related diseases.

Impacts outside NAE

17. NAE has had a major impact on agriculture in the rest of the world, both directly by importing food and raw materials and indirectly, through the impact of NAE AKST. This impact of NAE import requirements has had environmental and economic consequences for the rest of the world. Research undertaken in NAE has also had a global impact. While other countries have derived some benefit, the focus of NAE research has not been on their problems. The development of international research ca­pacity, via the CGIAR institutes, has sought to balance this by stimulating research relevant to the needs of develop­ing countries. The intellectual paradigm that determines the conduct and direction of this research remains powerfully influenced by the model of research in NAE countries and this may sometimes have diminished the usefulness and ap­plicability or research results.

3.1    Environmental Impacts of Agriculture and AKST within NAE
Farming practices have a considerable impact on the envi­ronment. Cultivation agriculture has replaced natural forest or grassland ecosystems with species and varieties of plants that have been adapted to cultivation and planted in near-monoculture, such that the original native ecosystem and its native biodiversity have been severely modified or lost alto­gether. Grazed lands may be similarly altered by the grazing of cultivated livestock and the deliberate planting of forage.