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Businesses call for food labels to be simplified by 2020 to reduce food waste

Businesses part of The Consumer Goods Forum (CFG) and Champions 12.3 have issued a call to action to simplify and standardize food date labels worldwide by 2020 in a bid to reduce food waste, as food companies outshine governments in the fight against food waste, according to a progress report by Champions 12.3.

The announcement was made today (20 September) at The Rockefeller Foundation to coincide with Climate Week and the 72nd United Nations General Assembly and was accompanied by the release of the Champions 12.3 report ‘SDG Target 12.3 on Food Loss and Waste: 2017 Progress Report’, which charts progress towards achieving the third target in the twelfth of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses, by 2030.

The plan aims to simplify the range of date labels such as ‘best before’ or ‘use by’, which often serve to confuse consumers over whether food is safe to eat or not, leading them to throw edible food away, contributing to the 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste generated every year around the world.

Businesses call for food labels to be simplified by 2020

The call to action released by the CFG, a network of 400 of the biggest consumer goods companies across 70 countries that helped to launch the Food Loss and Waste Accounting Standard to help businesses and governments measure, report on and manage their food loss and waste, and Champions 12.3, a coalition of more than three dozen leaders across government, business and civil society dedicated to accelerating progress towards the third target of the twelfth SDG, suggests that the following three steps should be taken to simplify date labels and reduce food waste by 2020:

  • Only have one label on any given food product;
  • Choose from one of two labels: one expiration date for perishable items (e.g. 'Use by') and one food quality indicator for non-perishable items (e.g. 'Best if used by'); and
  • Improving consumer education and awareness in order to better understand what the date labels mean.

The announcement expands national efforts to streamline date labels in the US, UK and Japan to the rest of the world, and represents a simple way to reduce the amount of edible food thrown away - a practice that costs UK households £700 a year and contributes eight per cent of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Commenting on the announcement, Peter Freedman, Managing Director of the CGF, said: "Now more than ever is the time for business to play a leading role in tackling food waste. This is an issue that can only truly be tackled by collaboration across the value chain. Through our global membership, the CGF is committed to playing a leadership role. We believe simplified and consistent date labelling will help us get one step closer to meeting our resolution to halve food waste by 2025 while also helping reduce confusion for consumers.”

Companies leading the fight against food waste

The Champions 12.3 report that was also released today, produced by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the World Resources Institute, measures progress towards the twelfth SDG’s food waste target against the three-year milestones on the way to the 2030 target date.

The milestones take a ‘target, measure, act’ approach to measuring the performance of companies and governments, with ‘green’ indicating where developments are on track to achieve the first milestone of reducing food waste by five per cent by the end of 2018, ‘yellow’ indicating where progress has been made but below the pace needed to achieve the milestone, and ‘red’ indicating where progress is not on track to reach the milestone.

Companies, who stand to save $14 for every $1 spent in reducing food waste, are currently outperforming governments in every aspect, achieving ‘green’ for food waste reduction targets against ‘yellow’ for governments, achieving ‘yellow’ in measuring food waste reduction against ‘red’ for governments, and achieving ‘green’ for actions to reduce food waste against ‘yellow’ for companies.

Regarding food waste reduction targets, 60 per cent of the world’s 50 largest food companies by revenue now participate in programmes that have a food loss and food waste reduction targets, while countries or regional blocs that have set specific food waste reduction targets cover 28 per cent of the world’s population, on the way to getting 40 per cent of the world’s population covered under a waste reduction target by the end of 2018.

In terms of measuring performance in reducing food waste, governments lag behind companies with only seven per cent of the world’s population living in countries where food reduction performance is measured and reported, while several of the world’s largest companies have begun reporting on food loss and waste, such as Sainsbury’s release of its food waste report back in September 2016.

Regarding actions to reduce food waste, initiatives have been put in place in the EU, US, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and many other countries with regard to public-private partnerships, new government policies, and consumer campaigns aimed at food loss and waste reduction, although these efforts do not approach 20 per cent of the world’s population by the end of 2018.

By comparison, more than ten per cent of the world’s 50 largest food companies now have active food loss and waste reduction programmes, with many involved in business partnerships such as the CGF, the Global Agri-business Alliance and the International Food Waste Coalition.

Commenting on the progress made in reducing food waste, Hans Hoogeveen, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the UN Organizations for Food and Agriculture, said: “The Sustainable Development Goals have given us an historic opportunity and we must rise to the challenge. Of all the SDGs, Target 12.3 is the only one to my knowledge that is being advocated by a coalition like Champions 12.3 with leaders from every sector mobilizing action to achieve success. We stand a great chance, but a lot of work remains.”

Liz Goodwin, Senior Fellow and Director, Food Loss and Waste at World Resources Institute and former CEO of the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), added: “It is good to see clear signs of momentum building behind the movement to tackle food loss and waste and the leadership being demonstrated by individual Champions and others. However, 2030 is only 13 years away, and more is needed. We now have a roadmap for how to cut in half the more than 1 billion tons of food that goes uneaten each year, and it’s vital that governments and the private sector everywhere put it to use.”

Finally, Marcus Gover, Chief Executive of WRAP, said: “The report we co-authored with WRI shows we are moving in the right direction, but we need to build momentum quickly. We need action from everyone from governments, businesses, NGOs and us all in our homes: uniting in the food waste fight. It is also essential that developing nations get the financial support they need to tackle food loss and waste. We have gathering impetus, and now we have something which could help navigate us all to our destination. There is no time to lose.”

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