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

CHAPTER 4: EU Regulation

103.  The ability of the food supply chain to prevent and reduce food waste is affected by the regulatory framework in which it sits. We heard examples of the unintended, or perceived, impact on food waste of various EU regulations across different policy areas. We explore these in this chapter, divided into a number of different policy areas, including: the influence of the CAP; policies that may help or hinder surplus food being redistributed or used in animal feed; the ban on the discard of fish; food hygiene regulations; food labelling; and packaging issues. EU waste policy is relevant but, aside from packaging waste, is covered in Chapter 5.

The impact of EU regulation on food waste

104.  In the light of the identified impacts on food waste of wider EU policies, we enquired as to whether the European Commission systematically assesses the impact on food waste of its policies. No information was identifiable on such an approach by the Commission. The inquiry heard from the Dutch government that there is certainly a lack of coordination across the Commission on the matter. Whilst policy makers were considered to be taking the topic of food waste prevention seriously, there is an issue surrounding the division of responsibilities.[184]

105.  The "Every Crumb Counts" Joint Food Wastage Declaration by stakeholders across the food supply chain argued that Commission Impact Assessments on proposals across policy areas should take food waste into account. In support of this, the FDF cited a Commission proposal to include a mandatory date of catch or date of landing on fisheries products. This was eventually removed in the course of negotiations as there was little link between such a date and the condition in which the product would eventually reach the consumer, but it may have led to consumer confusion and to the discard of a food product at a date when the product remained safe for consumption.[185]

106.  A move towards ensuring that EU law is fit for purpose was made in late 2013, when the Commission published its Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT) Programme.[186] The first stages of that Programme included a fitness check of the food chain, which concluded that the EU's General Food Law[187] should be subject to a full evaluation under the REFIT exercise.[188]

107.  We detect no systematic attempt across the European Commission to assess the impact on food waste of its policies. We therefore recommend the establishment of a cross-Departmental working group on the issue. We welcome the recommendation that an evaluation of the General Food Law should form part of the Commission's Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme. We recommend that its remit extend to consider the impact on food waste prevention of EU legislation beyond that Law.

Common Agricultural Policy

108.  Food waste prevention is not an explicit objective of the CAP, and did not feature in recent negotiations to reform the CAP.[189] It was noted, though, that the indirect effect of improving agricultural competitiveness and productivity should be to reduce food waste.[190]

109.  We have previously considered the issue of boosting the competitiveness of EU agriculture through innovation.[191] A critical issue is ensuring that information is available to farmers, primarily through Farm Advice Systems. Similarly important is the exchange of information between researchers, manufacturers, retailers and producers, systems to support which have been identified in the reformed CAP. These include the new European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Sustainable and Productive Agriculture.[192]

110.  The UK Government have confirmed that they expect to provide support for UK engagement in the EIP.[193] In evidence to us, they also pointed to the launch of the UK's Agri-Tech Strategy, which includes an objective to avoid surplus production.[194]

111.  Certain other aspects of the CAP could help to promote food waste prevention. One such example was rural development funding. According to the NFU, rural development programmes could support investment in agricultural production techniques which would improve crop standards, and in the development of new markets for lower value products. By improving crop standards, less food might be rejected by retailers and subsequently wasted, whilst new markets for lower value food could have a similar effect, with alternative routes for producers.[195]

112.  Another example was the common agricultural market element of the CAP. This was most recently revised in December 2013 in the context of CAP reform.[196] This provides for a fruit and vegetable scheme including funding to support on-farm investment in relevant technology, such as storage. It requires Producer Organisations (POs)[197] to be in place, which is not a norm in the UK. A recent Report from the Commission on operation of the scheme highlighted problems across the EU in terms of access to POs and, therefore, to the scheme.[198] The UK Government confirmed that they were working with the Commission and some other Member States to determine how the scheme might be operated in a simpler manner.[199]

113.  The common agricultural market Regulation also sets the framework for the continuation of marketing standards for fruit and vegetables.[200] These standards are designed to facilitate the trade of agricultural goods through the EU. Most fruit and vegetables are subject to general marketing standards. Presently, 10 products[201] are subject to more stringent standards, which set different provisions for separate classes of products: Extra Class, Class I and Class II. Defra considered the standards to be helpful.[202] There was some call for further relaxation of them, or at least reconsideration as to their impact on food waste.[203] KBT argued that, where quality standards are set, they should be set for the right reasons.[204]

114.  The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) does not aim explicitly to prevent food waste. Nevertheless, a move towards a more competitive agricultural industry, as is the intention of the reformed CAP, should have the effect of reducing waste on-farm. The CAP offers methods to accelerate that progress. In implementing the CAP, we recommend that the UK Government consider on-farm food waste prevention as an integral part of the policy, given the clear economic benefits of doing so. Such consideration should include: the fruit and vegetable scheme; the provision of appropriate farm advice; access to the European Innovation Partnership; and rural development funding.

115.  We recommend that the European Commission prepares guidance on the use of CAP instruments to support on-farm food waste prevention, particularly through the Rural Development Regulation and the Common Organisation of the Markets Regulation.

116.  We consider that an assessment of the impact on food waste of marketing standards for fresh fruit and vegetables would be particularly useful and should form part of the European Commission's evaluation of food law within its Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme.

Ban on the discard of fish

117.  In 2013, legislation was agreed that overhauled the rules governing the Common Fisheries Policy.[205] It includes an obligation to land all catches of species that are subject to EU restrictions. This obligation, known as the 'discard ban' will come into force over the period 2015-2019, applying to an increasing number of species over that time. The rules include a small amount of flexibility as well as exceptions for banned species and for those highly survivable species that are likely to survive if returned to the sea rather than landed.

118.  Defra noted that the discard ban was a positive step in the right direction, but that the UK Government would be alert when implementing the ban to ensure that waste at sea does not lead to waste on land, particularly where edible fish cannot be made available for human consumption.[206]

119.  We concluded in July 2013 that effective implementation of the discard ban must be resolved as a matter of urgency. A specific issue was that of identifying highly survivable species, which could survive if captured and subsequently released back into the sea. We heard that, as yet, the science and process for determining such species is lacking.[207]

120.  Further to reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, we urge swift progress on effective implementation of the discard ban, including the provision allowing an exemption for highly survivable species. Without such progress, the discard ban could have the perverse effect of hindering the prevention of food waste.

Animal feed

121.  Legislation introduced in the light of the BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) crisis prohibits the feeding of processed animal protein (PAP) to most farm animals.[208] On 1 June 2013, the ban on feeding non-ruminant (largely pigs and poultry) PAP to fish was lifted.[209] The recent Commission fitness check of food legislation described the continued restriction of feeding such food to pigs and chickens as "disproportionate" and noted that it would be discussed further.

122.  The foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001 led to the UK prohibiting the feeding to animals of catering waste that contains or has been in contact with animal by-products.[210] This was followed by the subsequent enactment of the EU animal by-products legislation.[211] Given that most food waste at retail and consumer stages is mixed, it is difficult to separate out food that has come into contact with animal by-products and food, such as bakery products, that has not. We explore the feeding of the latter type of food to animals in the next chapter.

123.  We heard that both restrictions should be removed, as long as robust systems were in place for the safe and centralised collection and processing of such waste in order to protect animal and human health.[212] In addition to the food waste benefits deriving from this idea, there would also be environmental benefits as a substantial amount of soy is currently imported as animal feed, an argument that we explore further in the next chapter. It was noted that other countries, such as Japan and South Korea, manage to operate a robust system.[213]

124.  Other witnesses were strongly opposed to the removal of restrictions, emphasising that human and animal health should not be compromised. Witnesses in favour of maintaining the ban stated that it was a reflection of the real concerns over exotic animal diseases, such as African swine fever, foot-and-mouth disease and BSE, where mass outbreaks had resulted in severe economic consequences for the European livestock industry.[214] This was reiterated in evidence from the Dutch government, that "the risks of an outbreak are considered at this stage to be so big that we are not into relaxing the measures at the moment".[215]

125.  A third group of witnesses, meanwhile, called for further scientific work to explore the potential for a relaxation of the restrictions. Specialist Waste Recycling, for example, said that lifting the measures could potentially have a positive impact on food waste reduction, as an animal is "a walking AD plant", and so this issue should be revisited.[216] The SRA highlighted the issue as highly emotive, stressing that the farming community would first need bringing round to any changes in the law.[217]

126.  Defra commissioned a study in 2011 to consider options for the sustainable and safe use of food and catering waste. The study highlighted a lack of data and recommended pilot studies to demonstrate suitable production processes and the level of benefits achievable by using this resource. The study also suggested that public acceptance of animal feed derived from food waste is likely to be an issue. Scientific data demonstrating safety and sustainability would help to inform public opinion.[218] Feeding the 5,000 welcomed the study and noted it would like to see further research as a result of the study.[219]

127.  There is a lack of clarity on the science relating to the feeding of catering waste to animals and of non-ruminant processed animal proteins to non-ruminants, such as pigs. We recommend, as a matter of urgency, specific review of the applicable legislation with a view to assessing recent scientific work and identifying gaps. A lifting of either restriction should only be considered if proven to be safe, and if the appropriate systems, including enforcement, are in place.

Food hygiene regulations

128.  A number of food safety and hygiene regulations are set at the EU level, including: cooling and freezing meat[220]; contamination in food[221]; and hygiene rules and product liability[222].

129.  Some concerns were expressed that EU food safety and hygiene regulations can both increase wastage throughout the supply chain and hamper the possibilities for surplus fresh food to be redistributed.[223] The Dutch food banks described food hygiene and safety as one of their biggest challenges. Retailers made compliance with rules a requirement of donation.[224] While these concerns are important, we also heard that the rules themselves should not be reconsidered.[225] Guidance would, though, be helpful. To support the redistribution of food, the FDF recommended the publication by the Commission of EU Food Donation Guidelines in order "to get clarity around the issues that might arise".[226]

130.  Education forms an important part of developing the required understanding of rules. We heard that the SFA offers extensive training to Dutch food banks on compliance with food safety and hygiene legislation.[227] In the hospitality and food service industry, such training was also considered critical, although challenging given the swift staff turnover (see Chapter 3, paragraph 88).[228]

131.  It was suggested that a 'Good Samaritan Act' might be helpful, along the lines of an Act in the US which limits food donors' liability for any problems that may subsequently occur (see Box 7).[229] Italy is the only European country so far to have passed similar legislation ('Legge del Buon Samaritano').[230]


US Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (1996)
The US Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (1996) encourages the donation of food and grocery products to non-profit organisations for distribution to individuals in need.

This law:

·  protects the donor from liability when donating to a non-profit organisation;

·  protects from civil and criminal liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient;

·  standardises donor liability exposure; and

·  sets a floor of "gross negligence" or intentional misconduct for persons who donate grocery products. According to the new law, gross negligence is defined as "voluntary and conscious conduct by a person with knowledge (at the time of conduct) that the conduct is likely to be harmful to the health or well-being of another person".[231]

132.  We were warned, though, that highlighting the issue may have perverse consequences should such a law not be adopted. That is, if there was a structured debate and discussion about the introduction of such legislation, which then drew the conclusion that it was "a solution looking for a problem" and it did not get introduced, this could leave potential donors taking a more risk-averse approach than is currently the case.[232]

133.  We conclude that there is both confusion and a lack of expertise relating to the impact of EU food safety and hygiene rules on food waste prevention. The issues are not insuperable, but would benefit from guidance from the European Commission on the types of food that can be donated and on compliance with regulations. We are unconvinced of the need for a Good Samaritan Act due to the potential for perverse consequences. Such an Act should only be proposed if there is a clear problem to be addressed.

Food Information for Consumers Regulation

134.  The recently adopted Food Information for Consumers (FIC) Regulation[233] sets out new provisions on 'best before' and 'use by' dates (see Chapter 3, Box 4), generally leaving it to businesses to decide which date should be used for a particular food. There are exceptions, such as eggs, which are required to be labelled with a 'best before' date under separate egg marketing regulations.[234] The FIC Regulation also includes requirements relating to the provision of information on storage conditions.[235]

135.  We explored consumer confusion relating to date labelling in Chapter 3 (see paragraphs 70-72). A specific linguistic issue arising from interpretation of the FIC Regulation related to uncertainty as to whether the term 'use by' applies to the end or the beginning of the stated day. In other official languages of the EU, the meaning is much clearer than in English. This, it was argued, was a particular area of concern for sandwich manufacturers and could lead to the unnecessary wastage of 6% of stock. It would therefore be helpful to be able to provide language such as "use by end of".[236]

136.  We recommend that the UK Government work with the European Commission to establish whether the term "use by end of" would be consistent with the Food Information for Consumers (FIC) Regulation in order to ensure clarity of labelling for retailers and consumers. We also recommend that the European Commission review the implementation of the FIC Regulation, including public recognition of the respective dates and awareness of storage conditions.

Packaging and Waste Packaging Directive

137.  The EU's Packaging and Waste Packaging (PWP) Directive[237] seeks to harmonise national measures concerning the management of such waste to provide a high level of environmental protection and ensure the functioning of the single market. It sets various targets on recycling, reuse and recovery, but does not include packaging prevention targets.

138.  As explained in the previous chapter, packaging can have a positive role in preventing food waste (see Chapter 3, paragraphs 74-75). Others sounded a more cautionary note, emphasising the continued need to reduce packaging waste and to promote sustainable packaging.[238]

139.  The Commission is in the process of reviewing various pieces of EU waste legislation, including the PWP Directive. One suggestion made by the Commission in its consultation document was to include a packaging waste prevention target, an idea opposed by the UK Government, who believe it would be better to focus on the product and innovation in product design to minimise the need for packaging.[239]

140.  The UK Government told us that they have undertaken substantial analysis to assess the point at which packaging reduction might become deleterious to food waste prevention. It was on the basis of that analysis that Courtauld Commitment 3 contains only a 3% packaging reduction target for food (see Appendix 5).[240] In the Netherlands, we heard that further progress is still required before reaching that same point.[241]

  1. Food packaging often performs an important waste prevention function. We urge the European Commission to ensure that, in its review of the Packaging and Waste Packaging Directive, provisions are not introduced that may have the unintended consequences of discouraging innovative packaging that might help to prevent food waste.

184   Q 115 Back

185   Q 36 Back

186   COM(2013) 685 Back

187   Regulation No 178/2002: The aim of the General Food Law Regulation is to provide a framework to ensure a coherent approach in the development of food legislation. It lays down definitions, principles and obligations covering all stages of food/feed production and distribution. Back

188   SWD(2013) 516 Back

189   Q 12 Back

190   Q 22 Back

191   European Union Committee, Innovation in EU Agriculture (19th Report, Session 2010-12, HL Paper 171). Back

192   European Innovation Partnership 'Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability', European Commission. This EIP, and four others, aim to bring together all relevant interested parties at EU, national and regional levels in order to boost research efforts, coordinate investments and facilitate access to new innovations.  Back

193   Communication from the Commission on the European Innovation Partnership 'Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability', letter from George Eustice MP to Lord Boswell of Aynho, 29 January 2014 Back

194   Q 9 Back

195   NFU Back

196   Regulation No 1308/2013  Back

197   Groups of producers that work together voluntarily to organise agricultural production in a way that can meet market demand more effectively than producers are able to achieve on their own.  Back

198   COM(2014) 112 Back

199   Q 22, Q 302 Back

200   Regulation No 543/2011  Back

201   Apples, citrus fruit, kiwifruit, lettuces and endives, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes. Back

202   Defra Back

203   Q 32, Q 254 Back

204   Q 67 Back

205   Regulation No 1380/2013  Back

206   Defra  Back

207   Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, letter from Lord Boswell of Aynho to Richard Benyon MP, 25 July 2013 Back

208   Regulation No 999/2001  Back

209   Regulation No 56/2013 Back

210   Defra, Defra supplementary  Back

211   Regulations No 1069/2009 and No 142/2011 (as amended) Back

212   Q 46, Q 71, Feeding the 5,000 Back

213   Q 46, Q 71, Q 268 Back

214   Q 23, Q 121, Defra Back

215   Q 138 Back

216   Q 268 Back

217   IbidBack

218   Q 13, Science and Research Projects - Recycling of catering and food waste, Defra Back

219   Q 46 Back

220   Regulation No 853/2004 Back

221   Regulations No 315/93 and No 1881/2006 Back

222   Regulation No 852/2004 Back

223   Q 36, Q 254, ARAMARK Back

224   Q 171, Q 185 Back

225   Q 13, Copa-Cogeca Back

226   Q 36, FDF Back

227   Q 165, Q 186 Back

228   Q 261 Back

229   Q 37, Feeding the 5,000 Back

230   Legge 155/2003 Back

231   Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (1996), Back

232   Q 69 Back

233   Regulation No 1169/2011 Back

234   BRC supplementary Back

235   Defra Back

236   Bob Salmon Back

237   Directive 94/62 (as amended) Back

238   Q 68, Q 165 Back

239   EU Commission review of waste policy and legislation: UK government response, Defra, 3 December 2013 Back

240   Q 306  Back

241   Q 167 Back

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