Counting the Cost of Food Waste: EU Food Waste Prevention - European Union Committee Contents



Food waste is a major public policy issue. Consumers in industrialised countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa. The global carbon footprint of wasted food has been estimated as more than twice the total greenhouse gas emissions of all road transportation in the United States (US).

Despite the compelling need for immediate action, the development of a policy framework is bedevilled by the complexity of defining and monitoring food waste. This is a particular challenge at the earlier parts of the supply chain—on farms—and goes some way to explaining the weak progress in this area at both the European Union (EU) and Member State levels compared with other areas of waste policy. The complexity of defining and monitoring food waste must not continue to prevent action.

We support the development of EU-wide aspirational targets for each level of the supply chain, assisted by a strategic approach, in order to reduce food waste and to encourage action across Europe. The ultimate objective of such an approach should be to tackle food waste caused by a lack of cooperation between component parts of the supply chain. Retailers, we argue, lie at the heart of this approach. They influence the behaviour of producers, manufacturers and consumers but, thus far, have failed to take their responsibilities sufficiently seriously.

The EU has an important role to play in encouraging cooperation throughout the supply chain. It must also look at its own regulatory framework and consider where that may impede food waste prevention throughout the component parts of the supply chain. The concept of the 'waste hierarchy' is intrinsic to the supply chain approach, and is linked to EU regulation. The hierarchy dictates the order in which waste should be managed, from prevention through to disposal. We recommend a food use hierarchy, which would place greater emphasis on the redistribution of surplus food to humans, through food banks and charities. If food is not suitable for human consumption, it should then be transferred to animals if safe to do so.

The waste of environmental and economic resources represented by food waste is a serious cost to society that needs to be urgently addressed. At a strategic level, this is a task for the European Commission, working with the Member States, but it is also one that can be tackled at a local and, even, individual level. There is much to do, but we were nevertheless encouraged by examples given during the inquiry of actions that have already been taken. There is clearly plenty of emerging willpower to address the issue. What is now required is coordination of those efforts within a clear and urgent framework for action.

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