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

Counting the Cost of Food Waste: EU Food Waste Prevention

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

The impetus behind the inquiry

1.  It has been estimated that 89 million tonnes of food are wasted each year in the EU, a figure which could rise to approximately 126 million tonnes by 2020 if no action is taken.[1] The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) states that every year consumers in industrialised countries waste approximately 222 million tonnes of food, which is almost as much as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa, equating to 230 million tonnes.[2]

2.  Food waste has important economic, environmental and social implications. A tonne of food wasted in food manufacturing in the UK is estimated to have a value of at least £950.[3] 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 US in 2010.[4] With the global population expected to grow rapidly over the next decade, such wastage will become even less sustainable as demand for food rises.[5] Furthermore, food and drink production requires substantial inputs of water, energy and pesticides. It is increasingly recognised that making efficient use of resources must be at the heart of policy making. In addition, others have noted that manufacturers could increase their profits by 12% every year by becoming more resource efficient.[6] The combination of all these factors led us to conduct this inquiry.

3.  We feel that the scale of the problem requires significant and urgent action, despite outstanding issues relating to definition and monitoring.

Evolving European policy

4.  This inquiry was stimulated by evolving policy at the EU level. The European Parliament adopted a resolution on 19 January 2012 on how to avoid food wastage,[7] which recommended that the European Commission take practical measures towards halving food waste by 2025. The Commission recommended in its Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe, in 2011, that disposal of edible food waste should be halved by 2020.[8] At that stage, the Commission also promised a Communication on Sustainable Food, which is due to be published in 2014.

5.  In parallel, the Commission is pursuing other avenues to tackle the problem. It published a Retail Action Plan in January 2013, including a section on food waste reduction.[9] The Commission indicated that, in the context of existing EU Platforms, such as the Retail Forum for Sustainability, it will support retailers to implement actions to reduce food waste without compromising food safety.

6.  The EU's body of waste policy more generally is under review by the Commission during 2014. Clear links between food waste and other waste policies are made during the report, particularly in Chapter 5.

7.  Finally, 2014 is a pivotal year for the design of programmes that implement key policies such as the reformed Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies, both of which, as we explore in Chapter 4, pertain to the food waste prevention debate.

The food waste debate context

8.  Thus far, there is no common definition of food waste. The UK's Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) defines it as all food and drink discarded throughout the entire food chain, but has also disaggregated it into three types of waste[10]: unavoidable waste[11]; possibly avoidable[12]; and avoidable waste[13]. Data and frameworks for the monitoring and reporting of food waste are also, as we explore in the report, lacking at the EU level and, often, at the national level.

9.  Food is wasted throughout the entire supply chain[14], not only during final consumption. It is affected by interactions along the supply chain—for example, contractual relations, cosmetic standards, timings of delivery, or labelling by retailers. Levels of food waste can also be affected by regulatory approaches to matters such as food marketing standards, food hygiene, date labelling, animal health and waste management. While some of these issues, such as waste management priorities, can be tackled at a local level, some require consideration at an EU level.

10.  Among EU Member States, some action is already being taken, as illustrated throughout the report. Action is often in the form of voluntary agreements, such as the UK's Courtauld Commitment (see Appendix 5). Stakeholders from across the supply chain are beginning to cooperate on some of the key issues in the context of an EU-funded research project known as FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies) (see Appendix 6). Such initiatives tend to be taken in isolation from each other, rather than within the context of a broad strategy.

What the inquiry covers

11.  This inquiry has taken into account a range of issues surrounding the food waste debate across Europe, including: the challenges surrounding a common definition of 'food waste'; the reliability and amount of data and evidence collected on food waste; the possible inclusion of an EU target; food waste along the entire supply chain; the impact of EU regulation; respecting the 'waste hierarchy'; and what, if any, strategic role the EU should play.

12.  Our focus is the prevention and reduction of food waste, rather than its management once created. The House of Lords' Science and Technology Committee recently published a report exploring how carbon-containing wastes (including food waste) can be transformed into useful, high value products.[15]

13.  As this inquiry has focused on the European context, we have not considered the issue of any food waste associated with EU imports from developing countries. Furthermore, we have not considered the use of genetically modified food, the issue of overconsumption or historic overproduction caused by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

14.  We also highlight that, although much reference is made to work being conducted in the UK and the Netherlands, this is not because we consider them to be superior in terms of tackling food waste. Our evidence was clear that these two countries are taking a lead on the issues covered by this inquiry, particularly in relation to available data and evidence. Good work is certainly being conducted in other countries across Europe, as we explain in Appendix 8.

Our aim

15.  Whilst this report is made to the House, it is also aimed at a wide range of policymakers and others, within the UK and across the EU. In particular, we trust that both the current and incoming Commission will take note of our report and we look forward to the Commission's response in the context of the political dialogue between the Commission and national parliaments. Our hope is that this report will also inspire governments of individual Member States and stakeholders throughout the entire supply chain. We are contributing to an ongoing debate, and we do not prescribe one single solution. Instead, we suggest a range of practical options, which we hope will move the food waste debate on from rhetoric to action.

16.  We issued our call for evidence in August 2013 and took oral evidence from a range of UK and EU witnesses between October 2013 and January 2014. Overall, we received 27 pieces of written evidence and took oral evidence from 59 witnesses, held over 22 evidence sessions. In addition to the evidence taken in the UK, we were fortunate to speak with stakeholders in the Netherlands, who ranged from government departments to representatives of Dutch food banks. Our findings are of relevance to policies within the broader EU, with some reference to how this might impact the UK. It must, however, be stressed that we did not concentrate on UK policy.

17.  The Members of the Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and Energy Sub-Committee who carried out the inquiry are listed in Appendix 1, which shows their declared interests. We are grateful for the written and oral evidence that was submitted to the inquiry; the witnesses who provided it are shown in Appendix 2. We are also grateful to Dr Julian Parfitt, Principal Resource Analyst, Oakdene Hollins Research and Consulting, who acted as Specialist Adviser to the inquiry.

18.  The call for evidence is shown in Appendix 3. The evidence received is published online.[16]

  1. We make this report to the House for debate.

1   Preparatory study on food waste across EU 27, BIO Intelligence Service, a report commissioned by the European Commission, October 2010  Back

2   Global food losses and food waste: extent, causes and prevention, the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, May 2011, a report for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations  Back

3   Q 202, FDF, WRAP  Back

4   Food wastage footprint: Impacts on natural resources - Summary Report, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 2013 Back

5   Q 34, Q 281, ARAMARK, FDF, IME, NFU Back

6   'Sweating our Assets': Productivity and Efficiency across the UK Economy, Conservative 2020 Group, February 2014 Back

7   European Parliament resolution of 19 January 2012 on how to avoid food wastage: strategies for a more efficient food chain in the EU (2011/2175 (INI)), European Parliament Back

8   COM(2011) 571 Back

9   COM(2013) 36 Back

10   Household Food and Drink Waste in the United Kingdom 2012, Final Report, WRAP Back

11   Waste arising from food and drink preparation that is not, and has not been, edible under normal circumstances. This includes egg shells, pineapple skin, apple cores, meat bones, tea bags and coffee grounds. Back

12   Food and drink that some people eat and others do not, such as bread crusts and potato skins. Back

13   Food and drink thrown away because it is no longer wanted or has been allowed to go past its prime. It includes foods or parts of foods that are considered edible by the vast majority of people. Back

14   For the purposes of this report, the supply chain is: producers and growers; manufacturers and processors; the hospitality sector and retailers; and consumers. Back

15   Science and Technology Committee, Waste or resource? Stimulating a bioeconomy (3rd Report, Session 2013-14, HL Paper 141) Back

16   Evidence published online is available at  Back

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