Sector News

EU steps up to fight food waste

December 6, 2016
Food & Drink

Around 88 million tons of food are wasted annually in the EU – which equates to around 20 percent of all food produced, with associated costs estimated at €143 billion (US$151.5 billion).

Because of these shocking statistics, the European Commission is stepping up its efforts to prevent food waste, strengthen the sustainability of the food system.

The Commission says it will investigate every opportunity to cut food waste generated in the production, distribution and consumption of food by trying to better understand where we lose food, how much and why.

It’s action plan includes examining the “best before” label and how consumers understand this, facilitating food donations, valorizing former foodstuffs and by-products as animal feed, developing a common EU methodology and establishing an EU platform on food losses and waste.

Food is lost or wasted along the whole food supply chain; on the farm, during processing and manufacturing, in shops/retail, in restaurants and canteens, and at home. The fight against food waste is gathering momentum globally with the food industry, consumers, NGOs and so on doing more than ever to combat the crisis and turn the tide before the world population reaches the predicted 9.7 billion by 2050.

The scale of food waste is so huge that according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted, requiring cropland area the size of China and generating about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Apart from its significant economic and environmental impacts, food waste also has an important economic and social angle in a world where over 800 million people suffer from hunger.

The Commission agrees that the recovery and redistribution of surplus food should be facilitated so that safe, edible food can reach those who need it the most.

“In order to be effective, food waste prevention requires action at all levels (global, EU, national, regional and local) and engagement of all key players in order to build integrated programs required to implement change throughout the food value chain. At national level, some Member States have developed national food waste prevention programs which have already delivered concrete results,” says the Commission.

The Senate in Italy has approved a bill to battle food waste and hunger (Italy wastes an estimated 5.1 million tons of food a year) and aims to reduce waste by one million tons each year over the next five years. The new legislation came off the back of last year’s Milan Expo which had the theme “feed the planet, food for life” and focused on sustainability and biotechnology.

A new law in France came into force earlier this year that forces supermarkets (retailers of 4,305 sq ft or more) to donate edible food to charities such as food banks rather than dump it.

As part of the Circular Economy Package methodology first adopted in 2015, the Commission will elaborate a methodology to measure food waste including what material is regarded as food waste and what is not, at each stage of the food supply chain. Consistent measurement of food waste levels in the EU and reporting will allow member states and actors in the food value chain to compare and monitor food waste levels, and thereby assess the effectiveness of food waste prevention initiatives, says the Commission.

Last September, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 including a target to halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains. The EU and its member states are committed to meeting this goal, according to the Commission.

The new waste legislation proposal requires EU countries to reduce food waste at each stage of the food supply chain, monitor food waste levels and report back in order to facilitate exchange between actors on progress made.

The Commission’s action plan to prevent food waste in the EU includes:
– developing common EU methodology to measure food waste and defining relevant indicators (implementing act to be put forward following adoption of the Commission’s proposal to revise the Waste Framework Directive);
– establishing an EU platform on food losses and food waste, which brings together member states and all actors of the food chain, to help define the measures needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on food waste and share best practice and results achieved;
– taking measures to clarify EU legislation relating to waste, food and feed, and facilitate food donation as well as the valorization of former foodstuffs and by-products as animal feed without compromising food and feed safety;
– examining ways to improve the use of date marking by actors of the food chain and its understanding by consumers, in particular the “best before” label.

What is the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste?
This is a key forum at EU level to help all players identify and implement food waste prevention solutions to achieve the related Sustainable Development Goals. It will promote inter-sector cooperation and sharing of best practice and results.

“In the end, a total of 70 members will be part of the Platform. 33 public entities – EU Member States, EFTA countries, EU bodies (Committee of the Region, European Economic and Social Committee), international organizations (OECD, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Environment Program (UNEP)) and 37 representatives from the private sector, selected following a public call for applications, will be represented,” says the Commission.

The Commission may also invite additional organizations, on an ad hoc basis, to meetings of the Platform or its sub-groups in order to provide additional expertise in specific subject areas. Regular updates on the work and progress will be published.

What about date marking? Is it a good way to tackle the issue?
A Eurobarometer carried out in 2015 reveals that while the majority of consumers (58 percent) declare that they always look at date marking (i.e. “use by” and “best before” dates found on food labeling) when shopping and preparing meals, less than one in two understand its meaning.

Misinterpretation by consumers of the meaning of date marking is considered to have a significant impact on food waste in the home (15-33 percent, depending on the study).

In addition, the manner in which date marking is utilized by food business operators and regulatory authorities to manage the food supply chain can also have a significant impact on food waste.

The Commission is also looking into the use of date marking rule in order to prevent food which is still safe and edible from being thrown away and has launched an external study to map how date marking is used in the market by food business operators and control authorities. Findings from this research, expected by the end of 2017, will support policy making in relation to date marking and food waste prevention.

“Given that food business operators are responsible for establishing date marking, the Commission may also develop in future guidance to support industry and facilitate a more consistent use of dates based on a shared understanding of terminology,” it says.

“With respect to labeling rules, the Commission is considering possible options to simplify date marking on foodstuffs; for instance, by extending the list of foods which are exempt from the obligation to include a “best before” date in food labeling. Today these include items such as vinegar, sugar, salt, chewing gum, but could include other foods for which removal of date marking would not pose a safety concern.”

By Gaynor Selby

Source: Food Ingredients First

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