Thirty percent of the food we grow is never eaten. In a world where finite resources will increasingly have to feed more mouths, tacking food waste is taking centre stage in the battle to build a more sustainable future.
The European Union launched guidelines on food donation this week (16 October) in a bid to reduce food spoilage and help increase access to food for the poorest people in the region.
“The primary focus of food waste prevention should be to act directly at source by limiting the generation of surplus food at each stage in the food supply chain (i.e. production, processing, distribution and consumption). If this cannot be achieved, the best destination for food surplus, which ensures the highest value use of edible food resources, is to redistribute this food for human consumption where safe to do so,” the Commission said as it announced the move.
Strengthening food security on two fronts
As part of its Circular Economy Action Plan, the Commission believes that food donation can be leveraged to boost food security on two fronts.
According to Eurostat, in the EU, close to one-quarter of the population– 119.1m people – were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2015. Of these, 42.5m people were not able to afford a quality meal every second day.
At the same time, it is estimated that around 88m tonnes of food waste is generated annually in the EU with associated costs estimated at €14bn.
In addition to its economic impact, food waste places pressure on the world’s finite resources. According to some studies, food that is harvested but ultimately lost or wasted consumes about one-quarter of all water used by agriculture each year. The United Nation’s FAO estimates wasted food requires cropland the size of China and generates about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions annually.
Through its food redistribution guidance, the EC wants to facilitate the recovery and redistribution of “safe, edible food”. The regulatory framework lays down requirements on aspects of the process including food safety, hygiene, traceability, labelling requirements and liability.
The Commission said it will also launch a pilot project in 2017 to further assess food donation practices in Member States and “promote the dissemination and uptake of the EU food donation guidelines”.
Food waste digital network
The EU’s Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste, which supported the Commission’s work on food donation, is also backing a project from EU REFRESH to launch a digital network to encourage further collaboration on food waste.
The network, Community of Experts (CoE), aims to help drive action at every level of the supply chain by sharing the skills, knowledge and resources needed to act against food waste.
The CoE will help users share and access information and ideas to develop and deliver their own initiatives. In total, 120 experts and 80 resources are already online.
Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety said: “I am pleased to announce that we have a new ally in the battle against food waste: the REFRESH Community of Experts. Fighting food waste requires concrete action and innovation by all key players in the food value chain. This battle has to be underpinned by knowledge and research and facilitated by an appropriate policy environment."
Progress to SGD 12.3
Two years ago, the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals, one of which – 12.3 – called for per capita global food waste to be halved by 2030.
Marcus Gover, CEO of food waste campaign group WRAP, said that the commitment of actors like the EC to make progress on food waste is vital for this “ambitious target” to be met.
“It will take big acts by big players and millions of smaller actions from everyone, from farmers to you and I as consumers. But it is possible to have a future where food security is less of an issue, and where we can care for our planet and protect the people who populate it from hunger.
“This Community of Experts provides an online network in which to share important initiatives and best practice, and brings together food waste experts from across businesses, NGOs, governments and the world in this important fight against food waste.”