Parliament pushes to slash food waste in Europe

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The European Parliament wants to cut food waste in half, warning that fresh and packaged foods tossed out every day pose a threat to Europe’s environment and efforts to reduce global poverty.

The European Commission estimates that up to 140 million tonnes of food and plant rubbish are produced each year in the EU, amounting to 300 kg per person – two thirds of which is edible.

In a resolution set to be approved today (19 January), MEPs argue that such levels are unsustainable.

MEP Salvatore Caronna (Socialists and Democrats, Italy) told a news conference in Strasbourg yesterday (18 January) the Commission should move quickly to develop a food waste strategy.

“For the first time a European institution is raising the point and it is going to goad the other institutions to act as well,” said Caronna, the parliamentary rapporteur for the resolution. “Now the ball is in the Commission’s court and the Commission is going to have to very swifty come up with replies.”

MEPs want to cut food waste by half in the EU through measures such as encouraging small- and medium-scale farming and crop production that is geared to local market demand. They also call for rethinking expiry dates on packaged foods.

The resolution calls food waste unethical in a world facing population growth and rising nutritional challenges in poor countries that are particularly vulnerable to a climate changes.

“The demand for food as you look forward might well be more than the actual supply of food and the ability to be able to produce it, and we have to integrate that into our thinking,” Caronna said.

Although food manufacturing and processing industries account for the largest single source of waste, households and restaurants combined are far more frivolous. By comparison, supermarkets are relatively efficient, says a report by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).

The resolution was approved by the Parliament’s agriculture committee on 23 November. It calls for the European Commission and members states to:

  • Take “radical measures” to reduce waste – “from farm to fork” – by 50% before 2025.
  • Improve enforcement of existing EU and national government sanitation laws that mandate recycling of bio-degradable waste.
  • Set food waste-prevention targets for member states under the current waste-reduction target to be in place by 2014.
  • Declare 2013 the 'European Year Against Food Waste'

Food packaging and labelling

MEPs are also encouraging changes to food packaging to reduce confusion over “best buy”, “sell by” and “use by” labels found on most packaged products.

But such measures may only have limited impact. There is little wiggle room in expiry dates, with consumer groups and retailers themselves wary of health risks and choosy buyers overlooking foods that are not at peak freshness.

The Commission has already taken steps to address some of the MEPs’ concerns, such as setting targets to eliminate landfill disposal by 2020.

“Food waste is environmentally bad, economically bad and morally bad,” William Neale, a member of Environment Commissioner Janez  Poto?nik’s cabinet, said at a recent forum on food waste.

He acknowledged that eliminating landfilling by 2020 is “a quite ambitious goal,” but said cutting food waste could go a long way in reaching the target. Food and other bio-degradable waste, such as garden clippings, account for 40% of landfill disposal across the EU, according to the JRC.

Neale said there was a moral imperative to cut down on waste. Food scraps from Italy alone, he said, could address the nutritional deficit in Ethiopia, where more than 4 million people faced hunger last year in one of the worst droughts in half a century.

Food also plays a role in addressing the Commission’s push for wiser resource use, Neale said, noting that more efficient food production saves water, fuels and pesticides. Organic waste could also be redirected from dumps to produce compost and energy from bio-gas.

Speaking at a news conference in Strasbourg, two members of Parliament’s agriculture committee made the case for cutting food waste.

“Today food safety and food security are world requirements. There is a daily reference to the imbalances. Every year there is more and more surplus of demand over the supply side and that gives rise to more and more imbalance,” said Paolo de Castro (Socialists and Democrats, Italy), who heads the committee.

Salvatore Caronna (Socialists and Democrats, Italy) the parliamentary rapporteur for the resolution, said: “Wealthy Europe include more than 70 million people who live in conditions of poverty and malnutrition, and that’s worth remembering.”

Other MEPs also backed the resolution in advance of the vote today (19 January):

"To improve resource-efficiency at all stages of the supply chain we need both a coordinated European strategy as well as sharing of best practices across member states," said Graham Watson (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, UK). "Most importantly, however, all players in the food supply chain need to be brought on board and help devise guidelines to improve efficiency and minimize waste."

Liam Aylward (Fianna Fáil, Ireland), who negotiated the report on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, said: "It is outrageous that almost 90 million tonnes of perfectly fine food gets wasted each year while an estimated 79 million people in the EU live beneath the poverty line and around 16 million depend on food aid from charitable institutions."

Food waste is a global problem that has broad nutritional and environmental impacts. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report says that the world produces 10 million tonnes of edible waste each day, or up to 30% of all food.

In Europe, most waste comes from end consumers – such as households and restaurants. But in the developing world – where the need is often greatest – most waste occurs in the production phase because of lack of storage, refrigeration or poor distribution systems.

The EU Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) is intended to spur recycling and reuse of products, and requires EU countries to separate bio-waste – such as food throwaways and garden clippings – and to provide composting facilities.

However, compliance varies widely, especially between wealthier northern countries and the newest EU members, Bulgaria and Romania, where recycling programmes are still embryonic.


  • 2014: MEPs call for the 'European Year Against Food Waste'
  • European Commission:Join Research CentreSupporting Environmentally Sound Decisions for Bio-Waste Management

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