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EU action on food waste too ‘fragmented’ and ‘intermittent’

EU action on food waste has been ‘fragmented’ and ‘intermittent’, despite a number of policies having the potential to make a big difference, a new report from the European Court of Auditors (ECA) has found.

As the EU's independent external auditor, the ECA works to improve the European Commission’s management of the EU budget and reports on EU finances.

EU action on food waste too ‘fragmented’ and ‘intermittent’
The ‘Combating Food Waste’ report released yesterday (17 January), a week before MEPs are due to vote on food waste targets, considers whether the EU combats food waste effectively. Whilst concluding that the EU does not contribute to a resource-efficient food supply chain, the report highlights ways in which current policies could be used more effectively to address the problem.

The auditors note that food waste is a global problem that has moved up the public and political agenda in recent years, stating that the issue will ‘grow in importance, especially given the need to feed the rising global population’.

According to the ECA, current estimates indicate that, globally, around one third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted or lost, with a consequent economic and environmental cost estimated by the United Nations to be some US$1.7 trillion (£1.4 trillion) annually. An estimated 88 million tonnes of food is wasted by EU member states every year, a figure that looks even worse when compared with the 55 million people thought to be in ‘food poverty’ in Europe.

Explaining its criticism, the ECA says that coordination in combating food waste at European Commission level is lacking and that the latest EU proposal for dealing with food waste, the creation of a platform, does not contribute significantly to food waste strategy. The Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste was launched in November, and aimed to support member states in defining measures needed to prevent food waste, sharing best practice and evaluating progress made over time.

At the time, European Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said that the platform presented “a turning point” in the European fight against the “unethical and immoral” levels of food waste. The ECA, however, disagrees.

Need for better coordination and clear policy

Improvements suggested in the report do not require new initiatives, nor more public funding, but instead involve a better alignment of existing policies, improved coordination, and clear identification of the reduction of food waste as a policy objective.

EU action on food waste too ‘fragmented’ and ‘intermittent’
Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis called a new EU food waste platform “a turning point” in the food waste fight
Bettina Jakobsen, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report, commented: “By focusing its efforts on establishing a platform, the commission again misses an opportunity to deal effectively with the problem.”

Progress to date, the ECA states, has been hampered by the lack of a common definition of “food waste”, and the lack of an agreed baseline from which to target reductions. This is despite repeated calls from the European Parliament, the Council, the Committee of the Regions, the G20 and others for the EU to help reduce food waste.

Whilst there are a number of EU policies with the potential to combat food waste, this potential is not exploited and the opportunities offered have yet to be taken. The auditors found that there had been a ‘notable lack of assessment of the impact of EU policies on the fight against food waste’. The report says that: ‘Major policy areas such as agriculture, fisheries and food safety all have a role to play and could be used to combat food waste better.’  

Emphasis needs to be put on prevention

The report concludes that emphasis should be put on prevention, as ‘the benefits of avoiding waste outweigh the cost of dealing with it later’. It goes on to make three recommendations to:

  • strengthen the EU strategy to combat food waste and coordinate it better, with an action plan for the years ahead and a clear definition of food waste;
  • consider food waste in future impact assessments, and better align the different policies that can combat food waste; and
  • identify and resolve legal obstacles to food donation, encourage the further use of existing donation possibilities and consider how to encourage donation in other policy areas.

Specific suggestions for improvement included closer monitoring of the landing obligation for fish and the use of available EU funds for investments that combat food waste, as well as action to prevent labelling practices that generate food waste.

The full European Court of Auditors ‘Combating Food Waste’ report can be downloaded from the organisation’s website.

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