Commissioner for health and food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis and the FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva agreed to ramp up collaboration between the two organisations in tackling the problems of waste in food supply chains and antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
In a letter of intent, the FAO and the EU pledge to “work closely together” to halve per capita food waste by 2030, a goal established under the new UN's Sustainable Development Goals. The letter also commits them to “intensified cooperation” to tackling the spread of antimicrobial resistance on farms and in food systems.
Food waste in focus
Speaking at a signing ceremony at FAO's Rome headquarters, Commissioner Andriukaitis said: “Food loss and waste represent an unacceptable, unethical and immoral squandering of scarce resources and increase food insecurity, while AMR marks a grave societal and economic burden.
“We are becoming more united, more efficient and more strategic in how we tackle these issues, and as such, this agreement should be celebrated.”
Globally, one-third of all food produced for human consumption – 1.3 bn tonnes - is lost or wasted, each year, causing massive financial losses while squandering natural resources. In Europe alone, around 88m tonnes of food are wasted each year, with associated costs estimated at €143bn, according to EU estimates.
Antimicrobial resistance threat
Graziano da Silva stressed that AMR is a global threat to both human and animal health.
The increased use – or misuse - of antimicrobial medicines in human and animal healthcare has contributed to an increase in the number of disease-causing microbes that are resistant to the antimicrobial medicines used to treat them, like antibiotics.
This makes AMR a growing threat that could lead to as many as 10mn deaths a year and over €85m in losses to the global economy by 2050, according to some studies.
In addition to public health risks, AMR has implications for food safety and the economic wellbeing of “millions of farming households” across the globe, the EU and FAO noted.
“FAO's vision is that antibiotics and other antimicrobials, should be only used to cure diseases and alleviate unnecessary suffering,” Graziano da Silva explained.
Looking at the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry, the FAO chief said that while in “certain circumstances” treatments could be used to prevent imminent infection, “in no circumstances should they be used for growth promotion".
"European countries are making great progress in reducing the use of antimicrobials in agriculture. Their experiences can strongly support FAO's work, especially in promoting technical cooperation activities in developing countries," he added.
Noting that food loss and waste are linked to many aspects of sustainable development, Graziano da Silva suggested that strong partnerships - like that between the FAO and the EU – are vital to address the problem.
Strengthening the partnership between the FAO and EU reflects the intersection of both organisations food safety and food security priorities, the organisations said.
FAO is leading an international effort to improve global measurement of food loss and waste, including the publication of an Annual Global Food Loss Index; the European Commission is also working to develop a methodology for measuring food waste as part of its “Action Plan for the Circular Economy”. FAO is already an active member of the EU's Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste.
In June, the EC a new EU Action Plan on AMR, in line with the WHO Global Action Plan on AMR and the FAO Action Plan on AMR 2016-2020, which focuses specifically tackling the problem within food chains.
“Opportunities for strategic leveraging the knowledge and resources of the two organizations are manifold,” the EU and FAO suggested.
Examples include synchronising efforts to quantify food waste; sharing information and evidence related to antimicrobial use in food production as well as AMR management best practices; joint advocacy and education efforts; and supporting countries in drafting legislation of antimicrobial usage.
FAO and the EU will also team up to support governments in implementing standards and guidelines related to AMR adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.