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Food chain concept was firstly used as a private sector concept applied in order to optimise chain organisation and to create value along the chain. It is now becoming an approach to understand relations within a socio-economic area, both for economic and production aims and to gain a territorial and rural development perspective. Currently food chain policy is often the result of a negotiating process involving different socio-economic policy areas and many stakeholders. The objective of the present paper is to analyse the food chain concept in rural and food policy context, to explore its interconnections with other socio-economic policy areas, and to identify the main policy perspectives in which the concept of food chain was used. A significant number of international bodies, European Union institutions and national rural programming documents containing specific reference to the food chain were studied with a content analysis methodology based on a common attributes grid. A Boolean matrix was created so to identify some cognitive relations between socio-economic policy areas and topics through the examination of the connected perceptual map built using multidimensional scaling method (MDS). Documents analysis shows that the food chain concept is mainly used in food policy strategy documents, but it is increasingly adopted as a theoretical instrument for territorial and rural policy documents. Food chain concept contains conceptual declinations which refer to both food and rural policies. Beyond the improvement of food safety and quality standards, it is widely used as instrument for agro-food competitiveness, improvement of management, territorial and rural development. Food chain initiatives impact on an increasing number of economic sectors, planning levels and interest groups and the stages of the food chain mostly targeted are the farmers/ primary producers and the consumer. Moreover, the analysis shows a lack of a European common interpretation and clear acknowledgement of the use of the food chain approach and the policy documents and regulations highlight food chain issues only partially if compared with private stakeholders and research bodies. At international level, there is an increasing attention on network and systemic relations in the agro-food sector and along the different actors of the chain, but the full strength of the food chain paradigm could be more widely exploited.


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