New EU programme presents ‘turning point’ in fight against food waste

New EU programme presents ‘turning point’ in fight against food waste
Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.
Europe has reached a ‘turning point’ in ‘that absurd unethical and anti-economic situation which we call “food waste”’, according to Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.

The commissioner was speaking today (29 November), at the first meeting of the new EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste (FLW), which the European Commission (EC) hopes will support member states in defining measures needed to prevent food waste, sharing best practice and evaluating progress made over time.

EU member states are committed to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), adopted in September 2015, including a target to halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030, and reduce food losses along the food production and supply chains.

The most recent estimates of European food waste levels by Fusions reveal that 70 per cent of EU food waste arises in the household, food service and retail sectors, with production and processing sectors contributing to the remaining 30 per cent. In total, 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually in Europe, with related costs estimated at €143 billion (£121.4 billion).

To support achievement of the targets on food waste, the EC’s Communication on the Circular Economy called for the establishment of a platform dedicated to food waste prevention.

Scale of food waste ‘unethical and immoral’

Speaking about the need to reduce food waste, Andriukaitis said: “This needless loss of precious natural and nutritional resources in the food value chain is unethical and immoral. It is shameful to throw away food in the world where more than eight hundred million people go to bed hungry. It carries substantial environmental, economic and indeed humanitarian consequences that are simply unacceptable.

“To fight food waste and promote the circular economy, we need to redesign our food supply chain, minimising waste and optimising resource use to generate value for consumers, producers and society. This requires a shared understanding of the issues at stake and close cooperation between all concerned to implement real and lasting change.”

Five areas of action for the future

Speaking at the meeting, the commissioner set out five key areas of action for the future.

The first involved imposing a common EU method to measure food waste consistently and to quantify food waste levels at each stage of the supply chain.

Andriukaitis also said that surplus food should, as a priority, be made available to people in need – as has been encouraged by legislation in France and Italy. “At the moment,” he said, “it is often easier to waste food than to give it away and this is simply unacceptable.”

To this end, he declared that guidelines to enable more food donation in the EU would be developed. These guidelines would clarify the food safety and hygiene regulations food business operators must comply with, as well as the rules surrounding food donation, so that surplus food that is safe is made available to people in need.

He added that the commission would clarify and lift any barriers that prevent the safe use of food resources along the food chain. Specifically, this refers to the use of ‘former foodstuffs’ (such as unsold bread or broken biscuits) that are safe to eat but are no longer marketed for human consumption, as a possible resource for animal feed.

Finally, ways to improve the use of date marking in the food chain and understanding by consumers are to be examined, using the commission’s new study that maps date-marking practices to inform future policies.

Andriukaitis finished by laying down a challenge to all platform members: “By the end of my mandate in 2019, I would like the EU to be the region leading global efforts to fight food waste with active national food waste prevention programmes in place in all countries and involving all key stakeholders.”

The global fight against food waste

Following the adoption of the SDGs, a global coalition, Champions 12.3, was launched by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in January to ‘inspire ambition and mobilise action’ to reduce food waste and loss globally. Made up of 30 CEOs, government ministers, executives of research institutions, farmer organisations and civil society groups, it aims to accelerate progress toward meeting SDG target 12.3, which seeks to halve per capita food waste by 2030.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a third of all food is lost or wasted between the farm and the fork. Furthermore, this food loss and waste amounts to US$940 billion (£665 billion) in global annual economic losses. It also consumes about one quarter of all water used by agriculture, requires cropland area the size of China, and generates about eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The coalition said that its champions would work to create political, business and social momentum to reduce food loss.

In June, a framework designed to help businesses and governments measure, report on and manage their food loss and waste was launched by a partnership of international organisations and associations.

The Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard set global definitions and reporting requirements, providing a consistent measure by which to assess future action against food loss and waste.

While the problem of food waste is increasingly recognised, the Food Loss & Waste Protocol (FLWP) – a multi-stakeholder partnership convened by the WRI – says that most do not know how much food is lost or wasted or where it occurs within their borders, operations or supply chains.

Moreover, the definition of food loss and waste varies widely, and without a consistent accounting and reporting framework, the group suggests that it is difficult to compare data and develop effective strategies.

This month (November), 15 major US companies pledged to take concrete steps to reduce food loss and waste by 50 per cent in their operations by 2030, in a partnership with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Through the pledge, each signatory agreed to established a baseline marking of where they are today and will measure and report on their progress. The companies are encouraged to consult the Food Loss and Waste Protocol for information on defining and transparently measuring food loss and waste.

More information about the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste can be found on the European Commission’s website.

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