European food banks and business organisations have joined forces to promote food donations in an effort to tackle waste.
Reducing food waste – whether at the farm, during transport or at supermarkets – is increasingly seen as an important element for global food security and environmental protection, and can contribute to the fight against hunger.
Addressing food waste is part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, whose aim is to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030”.
On an EU level, food waste prevention is part of the European Commission’s new Circular Economy Package to stimulate the bloc’s transition towards a more efficient use of resources.
According to the EU executive, approximately 88 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the EU, with associated costs estimated at €143 billion.
What is a food bank?
To help tackle the issue, the EU has decided to enhance its cooperation with food banks, non-profit organisations which collect surplus food from donations, growers, processors, caterers, and retail stores.
Apart from surplus, food banks can also collect items that are not purchased by shop owners, for example, due to early expiration dates. Another frequent case is the partly ruined packaging of products (mainly during transportation) with the inner item not having been affected at all. Food banks focus on products, which are ready for consumption and do not need any kind of processing.
After testing their safety, volunteers store and distribute the products to charities dealing with people in need.
Founded in 1986, the European Federation of Food Banks (FEBA) brings together 264 food banks in 22 European countries. In 2014, FEBA managed to distribute 411,000 tonnes of food equivalent to 2,25 tons per day.
FEBA launched a new guide last week to encourage and make it easier for food manufacturers and retailers to donate their food surpluses to food banks. The guide was put together in collaboration with FoodDrinkEurope, the EU food and drink manufacturers association, and EuroCommerce, representing the retail and wholesale sector.
The guidelines provide businesses with practical information about donation procedures and promote the social role of food banks.
The Brussels example
Harry Gschwindt of the Brussels Food Bank said that his organization works exclusively with volunteers. He stressed that no trade was involved in the food it receives, and in the event that partners mishandle products, cooperation automatically ends.
“We receive everything for free, we give it away for free […] our partners cannot re-sell the products either,” he noted, adding that strict safety rules are applied before the distribution of the products.
He emphasised that there was a high level of food safety checks in the process, as products carry a label of food enterprises and thus, it is in no one’s interest to provide unsafe food.
“Only 1.2% of the food products received last year had to be destroyed,” he pointed out.
Gschwindt also said that his organization started its operations by providing help to 18,000 people and now reaches 25,000. “The poverty level keeps on increasing just in the Brussels region.”
He also noted that charities sometimes face transportation issues and added that without processors, manufactures and industry “we will not be able to survive”.
Among the main challenges the Brussels Food Bank is facing, he cited the need for more volunteers, as well as people who retire from the agri-food industry and experts in the field.
Donation should be a norm
Referring to the new food donation guidelines, President of Kellogg Europe Chris Hood told EURACTIV.com that the main objective is to help businesses realize that there is a need to create a culture where donating surplus food “is the norm rather than the exception”.
“For this culture to thrive, we needed to complete the loop and tell the stories of how our food helps people- and for that to happen, compelling internal communication is the key,” he stressed.
In 2015, Kellogg donated 36 million 30 gramme servings of food, to food banks in 18 countries.
Asked if tax incentives could bring more stakeholders on board, he replied: “It might do. For us this has never been a driver. The most important thing a company can do is decide that this is something it wants to do right across its operations.”
“We need to recover more nutritious food to support more vulnerable people and better. I hope than an increasing number of food businesses will adopt those guidelines and engage with our food banks to take proactive steps to support those experiencing poverty”, Patrick Alix, Secretary General of FEBA, stressed.
Mella Frewen, Director-General of FoodDrinkEurope, noted: “Of course, we need to tackle the root causes of food waste first and foremost, all along the food chain. However, when food surpluses do occur, we all agree they should be redistributed as much as possible to food banks. With these very practical guidelines, we are simply turning our words into action and encouraging more food companies to best use their surpluses.”
“We are all committed to making sure that wholesome and nutritious food is not wasted. Not only do our members donate to food banks and other social organisations; many of them help food banks and charity organisations with logistics,” Christian Verschueren, Director-General of EuroCommerce underlined.
“These very useful guidelines show how best to donate food, and many examples of good practice. We hope that these will inspire others to follow the path many retailers and wholesalers have already adopted,” he added.