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  • Customers visit the fruit and vegetables department of a Carrefour grocery store in Brussels September 4, 2014.

    Customers visit the fruit and vegetables department of a Carrefour grocery store in Brussels September 4, 2014. | Photo: Reuters

Published 27 July 2016

A new study shows how the EU's dependence on overseas agriculture and its overconsumption is wreaking havoc abroad. 

European Union countries have become increasingly dependent on foreign nations to meet their domestic resource demands, with around 40 percent of the EU’s agricultural land production coming from outside of Europe, according to a new report released on Wednesday by Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE).

The authors of the new study titled, “The true cost of consumption: the EU's land footprint,” highlight how excessive consumption patterns among Europeans has resulted in devastating environmental and social impacts such as deforestation, biodiversity loss, food scarcity and even illegal land grabs.

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"Overconsumption is eating up ever more land, often with disastrous consequences. It is unjust, irresponsible and unsustainable that we continue to use more than our fair share of global land and are shifting more than one-third of the impacts related to land consumption to ecosystems and communities outside of the EU," Meadhbh Bolger, resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said. "It is vital that the EU take steps to measure and reduce Europe's Land Footprint.”

The new findings examine the environmental and social impacts of the EU’s land footprint, which is a measurement that calculates the total area of land required to produce the goods and services consumed by a country or region.

The study cites several examples of how unregulated EU consumption patterns are partially tied to social devastation and environmental destruction in other countries. Over 60 per cent of land used overseas by the EU is in the Global South, where landowners and traders can exploit less stringent labor and environmental protections, the report stated.

The 26-page document described how EU biofuel policies are driving huge growth in palm oil industry in Indonesia and Malaysia, where large swaths of natural forest are being converted in palm oil plantations, wreaking having on the country’s local eco-systems, food and territorial sovereignty.

As of 2014, palm oil plantations covered 13 million hectares of land in Indonesia – an area bigger than Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands combined, according to the report. The massive expansion of palm oil plantations takes place as the EU increases its demand for vegetable oils in order to meet it’s EU biofuels targets.

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Meanwhile, the FOEE estimates that nearly three quarters of the EU Land Footprint is related to the consumption of animal products, pointing an urgent need to adopt new dietary guidelines. As part of its findings, the new report concludes that Large Land Footprints generally correlate with higher consumption levels of land-intensive products such as animal proteins.

"As a matter of global justice and responsibility, it is vital that the EU acts to reduce its overconsumption of global land and the destructive impacts caused to ecosystems and communities worldwide as a result," The report concluded.

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