Agricultural products are traded intercontinentally and internationally. Where exotic food products are concerned, this comes as no surprise. However, raw materials for staples are likewise part of global commodity flows. Using the most important types of grain as examples, TÜV SÜD's food experts explain which countries supply most of the raw materials for staples consumed in Germany.
Germany ranks third in the list of global exporters and importers of agricultural and food products. The country mostly exports processed food products and primarily imports agricultural produce. At around EUR 75 billion, imports of agricultural produce exceed exports, which amount to approximately EUR 66 billion. Germany's key partner in the trade of food and feed imports is the Netherlands, followed in descending order by Poland, Italy, France, Belgium, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland. The list of imported commodity groups is headed by milk and dairy products, but meat, processed fruit and vegetables, oils and fats and fish products and seafood are also high on the list.
The key types of grain traded at international level include corn, wheat, barley and rice. At our latitudes, it is hardly surprising that rice needs to be imported into Germany; the primary source countries are India, Thailand and Vietnam. However, today even indigenous grain types such as wheat, barley and corn are bought by Germany on international markets to stock up our own supply. The reason is that grain is needed not only for bread, but also in the production of other processed grain products including malt and cereals, in feed production and for industrial purposes, including biofuel production.
According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, wheat, barley and corn, if not produced in Germany, is mostly imported from neighbouring countries. The main import partner for wheat is the Czech Republic, followed by Poland, France, Lithuania and Canada in descending order. Barley is mainly imported into Germany from the Czech Republic, Denmark and France. In 2016, Poland was the country importing most corn to Germany. However, the Ukraine, Hungary, France and the Netherlands are also important trade partners for grain imports to Germany. In summary, it can be said that most grain imports come from within the European Union, which is an advantage because of shorter transport routes. After all, the world's biggest grain producers apart from the EU include Russia, the USA, Australia and Canada, all of which are a considerable distance from Germany.
Most of the grain produced worldwide today is not used as an ingredient in food products, but either as feed or as a raw material in industry. Given this, the import figures are no indication of the origin of the grain used for our bread or the flour that we can buy in shops for private consumption. According to the Association of German Flour Millers (Verband deutscher Mühlen e.V.), less than five per cent of grain used in the production of bread flour has been imported in recent years. Where wheat is concerned, the quantities and qualities of the bread grain grown in Germany are generally so good that German flour millers almost exclusively use wheat cultivated in German fields. Most of this wheat comes from the eastern German states and the two largest German states of Bavaria and Lower Saxony. Rye harvested from German fields in 2017 was also enough to satisfy the needs of Germany’s flour millers. The harvested quantity of 2.7 million tonnes of rye covered Germany's food needs of less than one million tonnes. While most rye is cultivated in Brandenburg and Lower Saxony, Bavaria traditionally leads in the production of barley, which is used for beer brewing.
The mandatory traceability system requires bakeries to furnish evidence of their flour suppliers. The requirements of voluntary certification standards for food safety and quality, among them the International Featured Standard Food (IFS), go even further. A certificate according to such a standard enables bakeries to demonstrate that the indications of origin provided on their finished product match the flour supplied, and that flour identity is maintained throughout processing and storage.
Further information on food safety can be found here.
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