EU Gathers Evidence to Prevent Food Waste

Wasted food in the garbage in Rome, Italy (Photo by Andrea Leganza) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, August 15, 2019 ( News) – Each year around 20 percent of food produced in the European Union is lost or wasted, causing unacceptable social, environmental and economic harm. Meanwhile, some 43 million EU residents cannot afford a quality meal, including meat, chicken, fish or a vegetarian equivalent, every second day.

Food waste has a huge environmental impact, accounts for about six percent of the total EU greenhouse gas emissions and puts an unnecessary burden on limited natural resources, such as land and water use.

 The European Commission has expressed its commitment to solving this problem and putting its food system onto a sustainable path, but says that to be able to take effective action, we need more data on food waste than we currently have.

In order to address this knowledge gap, the Commission has adopted a Delegated Act laying down a common food waste measurement methodology to support Member States in quantifying food waste at each stage of the food supply chain.

Based on a common definition of food waste, the methodology will ensure coherent monitoring of food waste levels across the EU.

The Delegated Act is subject to scrutiny by co-legislators and was sent to the Parliament and the Council in July.

Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President, said, “Food waste is unacceptable in a world where millions still suffer from hunger and where our natural resources, which make human life and wellbeing possible, are becoming increasingly scarce. That is why we have defined food waste prevention as a key priority in building a circular economy and a sustainable society. To deliver change, we have to be able to properly measure food waste. I am pleased to see the EU developing the first ever comprehensive food waste measurement methodology and blazing the trail globally.”

The Commission estimates that across the EU, around 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually with associated costs estimated at €143 billion.

Preventing food waste is a priority

Preventing food waste was identified as one of the priority areas in the Circular Economy Action Plan adopted by the Commission in December 2015. Furthermore, food waste is one of 10 major indicators of the Circular Economy Monitoring Framework, telling us how advanced we are in the transition from linear “make-use-dispose” to circularity, where loss of resources is minimized.

Jyrki Katainen, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, in charge of Health and Food Safety, said in a keynote address to the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste in May, “The business case for food waste prevention is convincing. Research shows a 14:1 return on investment for companies which integrated reduction of food loss and waste in their operations.”

 “I count on the active participation of food business operators to measure, report and act on food waste levels,” said Katainen. “In food waste, as in life, what gets measured, gets managed. To be able to implement effective national food waste prevention programs and promote circularity in the food chain, we need to know where, what, how much and why we are losing food resources. We are making the decisive step to get this knowledge.”

According to the EU research project FUSIONS (2016), over half of food waste generated in the EU occurs at the level of households – a key area of focus for food waste prevention programs in the Member States.

While 70 percent of EU food waste arises in the household, food service and retail sectors, with production and processing sectors contributing the remaining 30 percent.

Due to the revised Waste Framework Directive, adopted in May 2018 as part of the Circular Economy Action Plan, specific measures on food waste prevention have been introduced which will provide the EU with new and consistent data on food waste levels.

National food waste prevention programs

Each year around 20 percent of food produced in the European Union is lost or wasted. (Photo by Katie Campbell / EarthFix) Creative Commons license via Flickr

 The new waste legislation requires Member States to implement national food waste prevention programs and, importantly to reduce food waste at each stage of the supply chain, monitor and report on food waste levels.

The EU’s action plan to fight food waste aims to help achieve the global Sustainable Development Goal Target 12.3 to halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030, and reduce food losses along the food production and supply chain.

While the Delegated Act defines what needs to be measured as food waste at each stage of the food supply chain and how this should be carried out, it provides flexibility as to how data collection should be carried out at national level.

With support of the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste and other relevant expert groups, the Commission will closely follow the implementation of the Delegated Act, organizing regular exchanges with Member States in order to facilitate practical implementation and share learning.

Based on the methodology, Member States are expected to put in place a monitoring framework with 2020 as the first reporting year in order to provide the first new data on food waste levels to the Commission by mid-2022.

The EU reporting framework will help standardize reporting of food waste levels by business and contribute to global monitoring of Sustainable Development Goals Target 12.3.

SDG 12 seeks to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.” The third target under this goal (Target 12.3) calls for cutting in half per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reducing food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses, by 2030.

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