MEPs agree proposals to cut the EU's 88m tonnes of annual food waste

MEPs have called on the EU to step up its actions on fighting the 88 million tonnes of food wasted in Europe every year, voting in proposals this week that will go to the European Parliament next month.

Members of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI) unanimously approved the proposals on tackling food waste on Tuesday (11 April).

The report notes that currently there is no specific hierarchy for the management of food waste at EU level. Other issues raised include the lack of a common, consistent definition of ‘food waste’ or a common methodology for measuring waste at EU level, a lack of understanding and education on food waste and date marking and barriers making it harder for surplus food to be redistributed to those in need.

One of the recommendations in the report called for the European Commission to lift restrictions on food donation, proposing a change in the VAT directive to authorise tax exemptions on food donations, as well as introducing legislation protecting donors from liability should a product donated in good faith, later cause harm to a recipient, except in cases of ‘gross negligence’.

In the USA, the Bill Emerson ‘Good Samaritan’ Act was passed in 1996 to this effect. While in Italy a new law was passed last year, making it easier for supermarkets to donate their unused food to community groups. In the UK, platforms such as Neighbourly and FareShare facilitate the redistribution of unsold food from supermarkets and retailers to charities and community groups, but currently there is no plan to introduce similar legislation.

Also raised in the report was the lack of understanding when it comes to ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates on food packaging. According to the report less than half of EU citizens understand the meaning of these labels. The proposal encourages the commission and member states to work with stakeholders to help improve consumers’ understanding of date marking, food safety and food waste, and assess whether current EU legislation is ‘fit for purpose’.

ENVI hopes that the commission will adopt a binding food waste reduction target of 50 per cent by 2030, in alignment with UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, following on from draft legislation which was adopted by Parliament as part of its Circular Economy Package discussions last month calling on member states to meet this target.

It calls for a ‘co-ordinated policy response’ at EU level, taking into account aspects of economic, research and innovation, environment, agriculture, education and social policy as well as waste policies.

'Coordinated policy response' to 88m tonnes of food wasted in EU annually

MEP Biljana Borzan, author of the proposal report, said: “In developed countries food is wasted mostly at the end of the chain, at distribution and consumption. Everyone has a responsibility to tackle this problem. My report calls for a coordinated policy response on labelling, liability and education, as most consumers do not understand the precise meaning of ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ labelling.

“Moreover, we should address the shortcomings of existing EU legislation where it hinders food donations. We need to update our common VAT system to allow for tax exemptions. A form of ‘good Samaritan’ legislation at EU level could lead to greater volumes of food being donated and reducing food being wasted, without compromising current standards of food safety.”

Croatian MEP Biljana Borzan authored the proposals
According to estimates, in the EU 88 million tonnes of food are wasted each year, resulting in 170 million tonnes of carbon emissions. The Netherlands is responsible for the highest amount of food wasted (541 kg per person, per year), with Slovenia recording the lowest amounts (72 kg per person).

Households are the lead contributors to food waste, according to data from the Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies (FUSIONS) project, with 53 per cent of all food waste attributed. However, the report stressed that there is a need to reduce food waste throughout both the supply and consumption chains.

In January this year, the European Court of Auditors released a report, calling EU action on food waste ‘fragmented’ and ‘intermittent’, highlighting ways in which current policies could be used more effectively to address the problem of food waste. It also referred to the latest EU proposal for dealing with food waste – The Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste – launched in November last year, stating it did not contribute significantly to food waste strategy.

The platform, declared a ‘turning point’ by European Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, aims to support member states in defining measures needed to prevent food waste, sharing best practice and evaluating progress made over time. Despite the ECA’s criticisms, the ENVI proposal welcomes the platform, describing it as a ‘valuable tool’.

The proposal will be put to a vote by the rest of the European Parliament during the 15-18 May plenary session in Strasbourg. 

The full list of proposals can be found in the ENVI report.

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