Industry giants to harmonise global date labels in food waste fight

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/onebluelight
© GettyImages/onebluelight

Related tags Food waste United nations

Some of the world’s biggest food companies will standardise their food date labels globally by 2020 in a bid to reduce food waste.

Members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a network of 400 of the biggest consumer goods companies across 70 countries – along with food waste coalition Champions 12.3 have agreed to clear up cluttered food date labels that often simultaneously give different ‘sell by’, ‘use by’, ‘display until’ and ‘best before’ dates

Champion 12.3 members include the CEOs of Tesco, Olam, Unilever, Nestle and Campbell Soup as well as the heads of WWF International, Rabobank and global finance ministers.

The companies have committed to rolling out three actions in their supply chain by 2020. Firstly, they will use only one label at a time on any given product.

Secondly, they have promised to use only one of two labels – an expiration date for perishable items (‘use by’) such as vegetables, eggs or milk and a food quality indicator for non-perishable items, such as ‘best if used by’. The exact wording may be changed to suit regional needs.

Thirdly, they will engage in education campaigns so that consumers better understand what date labels mean.

The call to action also encourages firms to partner with NGOs and governments agencies on awareness efforts, which could include in-store displays and web materials. “Many consumers don’t know, for example, that many products are still safe to eat past the ‘Best if used by’ date​,” said the CGF.

A game-changer?

Tesco CEO Dave Lewis said that streamlining date labels around the world could be “game-changing”​ in the fight against food waste. The UK supermarket giant claims to be one of the first retailers to opt for single date coding across its fresh food and meat produce.

“All the evidence from WRAP [The Waste and Resources Action Programme] and our own Tesco research has shown that streamlining date codes helps customers waste less food and it also reduces waste in our own operations. That’s why it’s so important we extend this practice to more companies in every country.”

Senior vice president of the Kellogg Company and president of Kellogg Latin America Maria Fernanda Mejia said the company was “an enthusiastic supporter of improved and harmonised food labelling standards”.

Simplifying food date labels is an important step forward in preventing food waste, and will help end the confusion related to ‘sell by’ dates,​” she said.

According to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there are 7bn people on this planet, of whom 925m are starving, and yet an estimated 1.3bn tonnes of food worldwide is lost or wasted each year. This is enough food to feed 3bn people.

Cutting down on waste also means saving resources along the supply chain and putting money back into consumers’ pockets. The average UK household with children spends £700 a year on food that’s thrown away while in the US, the figure is around $1,500, according to the CGF.

Champions 12.3 on article 12.3

Two years ago, the United Nations’ General Assembly adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), one of which (article 12.3) called on stakeholders to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030, including food that is wasted in production and supply chains.

According to Marcus Gover, chief executive of the British NGO, WRAP, it was also essential for developing nations to get the financial support they need to tackle food loss and waste. In developing economies, food waste often stems from a lack of cold storage facilities.

Senior fellow and director of food loss and waste at the World Resources Institute (WRI) Liz Goodwin praised the “clear signs of momentum​” displayed by members.

 “However, 2030 is only 13 years away, and more is needed​,” she added. “We now have a roadmap for how to cut in half the more than 1 billion tonnes of food that goes uneaten each year, and it’s vital that governments and the private sector everywhere put it to use.​”

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