Vella promises EU food waste action

Vella promises EU food waste action
Karmenu Vella
The European Commission (EC) is to propose a common method to measure food waste ahead of targeted EU action, says Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

Speaking at the ACR+-organised International Conference on Sustainable Food & Bio Waste Management in Malta today (31 May), Vella said that as part of the EC’s Circular Economy Package (CEP), it would be proposing a common EU methodology to improve understanding of where and how food waste losses occur.

“[Food is] the most basic human need”, said Vella today. “No wonder we get emotional about it… It’s economic, it’s ethical, and it’s environmental. That’s three reasons why we need to take it very seriously.

“Reducing food waste is the easiest, most effective way of reducing pressure on the environment. It’s very important to keep this mind, because food waste isn’t about food. It’s actually about a massively destructive waste of vital resources.”

According to Vella, a study carried out last year by the EU’s Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies (FUSIONS) project found that 20 per cent of the food produced in the EU every year is wasted at some point in the supply chain. This amounts to around 88 million tonnes of food waste, worth an estimated €143 billion (£109 billion).

The commissioner said: “I find that astonishing. At a time when nearly one in 10 Europeans can’t afford a quality meal every second day, we are squandering one fifth of our food.

“The overall impact is enormous. Wasting food means wasting land. It means wasting a huge amount of water. And it means generating a huge amount of greenhouse gases for nothing. If food loss and food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, after the USA and China.”

Vella says that the EU is committed to meeting the sustainable development goal 12.3 set out by the United Nations last summer, which seeks to halve global food waste by 2030. Over 150 world leaders have formally adopted the target, and in January a coalition of CEOs, research institutions and food organisations was formed to mobilise action on the goal.

Commission planning targeted action

Once a common measurement technique has been established throughout the EU, Vella says that the EC plans to set up a ‘new platform’ that will make it easier for member states to cooperate and share results as well as develop more targeted European action.

Expanding on what action the EC might take, Vella said: “We’ll be looking at the barriers to reuse, and checking any institutional reasons that might be holding it back. That will cover animal feed as well as food. We’re also thinking about clearer guidelines for food donations, and clarifying the safety and hygiene requirements, and the fiscal implications.”

Last October, prior to the launch of the CEP, the European Former Foodstuff Processors Association (EFFPA) called on policymakers to clarify regulatory framework for reprocessing food no longer suitable for human consumption into animal feed. Currently, the body said, former foodstuffs are defined as neither food nor feed, requiring national authorities to interpret the resource as a ‘by-product’ rather than waste, leaving, it says, ‘a sphere of legal uncertainty’ for both food manufacturers and former foodstuff processors.

The EC is already seeking to increase the separate collection of biowaste through the package, a measure that Vella says would “improve recycling generally, and… also close a loop, when biowaste goes back to soils in the form of compost and fertiliser”.

Action in member states

Vella’s speech opened the one-day conference, which also saw representatives from a number of member states giving presentations on initiatives designed to cut down food waste. Speakers included Zero Waste Scotland Chief Executive Iain Gulland talking about the country’s setting of a Europe-first national food waste target (a third by 2025) in its new circular economy strategy.

The commissioner pointed to a number of member states that are implementing food waste initiatives. In Malta, measures are included in the national waste prevention programme, while in Portgual the ‘Menu Dose Certa’ project provides training and guidance for restaurants to adopt best environmental, nutritional and food stocks management practices, from the purchase of foodstuffs until the preparation of meals.

Vella said: “There are many areas where the state can play a critical role, motivating and implementing change. Those changes have to happen all along the supply chain, with action from producers and processors, suppliers and retailers, and of course, consumers.

“But it also requires member states [to] reduce food waste, monitoring levels and reporting on progress. And there are many other initiatives on the way.”

More information about the global problem of food waste can be found in Resource’s feature article.