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

CHAPTER 6: Strategic EU Role

163.  The inquiry took evidence from most witnesses on the role that the EU could play in preventing and reducing food waste. This chapter therefore considers what, if any, strategic role the EU should play.

164.  It was clear from the evidence received that most witnesses see the EU as playing a role in preventing food waste, several elements of which have already been set out: standardisation of approaches to defining different material and waste flows at each stage of the food supply chain, establishment of a data and monitoring framework across the EU and adapting current EU reporting procedures, non-binding target setting (Chapter 2); encouraging greater collaboration in, and oversight of, the supply chain (Chapter 3); assessing the EU's own regulatory framework to ensure its compatibility with the goal of food waste prevention (Chapter 4); and monitoring with respect for the waste hierarchy as applied to food (Chapter 5).

165.  In addition to those activities, the Dutch government also felt that the EU could give an extra impulse to research and innovation in this area through the EU's research funding programme, Horizon 2020[293] (see Box 9).[294]


Horizon 2020

Horizon 2020 provides €77 billion of funding to support EU research and innovation between 2014 and 2020.

One element of Horizon 2020 is 'food and healthy diet'. Under this category, the Programme hopes to create "opportunities for a sustainable and competitive agri-food industry, through innovation in food processing". This includes research at all stages, including food design, packaging, process design and control, waste reduction and by-product valorisation.

This category further intends to promote "informed consumer choices", with research focusing on the preferences, attitudes, needs, behaviour, lifestyle and education of consumers. As part of this, activities aim to enhance communication between consumers, the food industry and the research community.[295]

166.  Horizon 2020 is the new EU programme for investment in research and innovation, running from 2014 to 2020. In the Netherlands, the Dutch government said it is desirable that within the Horizon 2020 framework the European Commission should supply "additional support" for research and innovation to stimulate food waste reduction.[296]

167.  We were warned, however, that any research strategy must be systemic in thinking and take into account the broader picture, without focusing on single innovations. We heard that one issue with the Horizon 2020 programme is that it is currently "siloised" in its activities. Rather, such programmes require "big systems thinking", taking the whole situation into account, as otherwise action in one area could result in creating negative impact elsewhere down the supply chain.[297]

168.  One example of a food waste related project supported by EU research funding is FUSIONS, in relation to which the inquiry took a substantial amount of evidence (see Appendix 6).[298] It was widely recognised by witnesses that the task set for FUSIONS is a formidable one, not least due to its size and the number of project partners that must be managed. The ambitious targets set by the Commission were also considered an added challenge to the project.[299] WRAP informed us that it had written to the FUSIONS project leader to express concern over the delay in meeting particular milestones.[300] Despite warnings of failure, it was conceded that FUSIONS is still relatively embryonic and that it needs to be given more time to develop before a judgment can be made.[301] WRAP has agreed to develop an action plan with FUSIONS to ensure that the project remains on track.[302]

169.  Research and innovation are core to progress in food waste prevention. Conceptually, FUSIONS is an excellent example of pan-EU collaboration in this area supported by EU research funding. We are concerned, however, that there is a serious risk that it will not meet expectations. We recommend that the European Commission monitor closely the work of FUSIONS, with a view to intervening if its progress fails to meet expectations.

170.  FUSIONS represents the only strategic approach across the EU to food waste prevention. Unilever called on the EU to set ambitious goals for food waste prevention and to identify a coordinated strategy.[303] It was argued that such an approach is important as food waste is an issue not limited to one or two countries.[304] A pan-European strategy would therefore provide clear guidelines for all Member States, ensuring clarity and consistency, and therefore prevent misinterpretation of "grey" areas.[305]

171.  A number of witnesses also highlighted the specific role the EU could play in terms of communication and providing information. Copa-Cogeca noted that the EU could have a role in actions directly targeted at consumers, including access to better information regarding food storage.[306] Sodexo adopted a similar stance, and argued that the EU should be bringing communication efforts together and driving it through from the top level down to Member States.[307]

172.  Others were less specific, but nevertheless emphasised the valuable role that the EU could play in sharing and communicating best practice, particularly valuable given the highly variable progress made across the EU thus far.[308] The Dutch government, for example, stated that by simply placing food waste on the agenda and urging Member States to address the issue, the Commission could definitely have a "big impact" throughout Europe. In a broader sense, it stressed that food waste forms a major pillar within the sustainable food system, necessitating an integrated approach with all the different stakeholders.[309]

173.  Finally, we heard that there is a need for leadership from the EU. Witnesses argued that by taking such a role, the EU could stimulate a reduction in food waste, including a change in culture throughout the supply chain, from consumers through manufacturers to producers on the farm.[310]

174.  The inquiry received diverging evidence on the costs and benefits of acting to prevent food waste. On the one hand, emphasis was placed on the inherent 'uncertainties' of acting on food waste and that "it has to make sense in the marginal or social cost benefit analysis".[311] At this stage it was not known how far waste prevention could go before the costs out-weighed the benefits.[312]

175.  On the other hand, the inquiry received overwhelming evidence of the 'wider costs' of food waste to consumers, businesses and society, and thus the potential gains to be achieved from food waste prevention.[313] Such savings occur not only in the food purchased by consumers, but in the money spent on energy and water to produce it. Although minimal data are available from across the EU, we heard that between 2007 and 2012 there was a reduction of 1.3 million tonnes (15%) in UK household food waste (despite an increase of 4% in the number of UK households). This reduction reportedly saved UK households £3.3 billion in 2012 alone—approximately £130 for the average household. The reduction in food waste in bins subsequently saved local authorities around £85 million in avoided Landfill Tax and gate fees in 2012.[314] WRAP estimates that around 15 million tonnes of food waste arise in the UK every year, which represents a financial loss to businesses of at least £5 billion a year,[315] with a tonne of food wasted in manufacture typically valued at £950.[316]

176.  We fail to observe a clear and urgent strategic direction from the European Commission and Member States to reduce and prevent food waste. Efforts across the EU are fragmented and untargeted. The potential gains to be achieved from action are significant but policy makers have so far been paralysed by uncertainty. We reject the argument that action should be delayed until the costs of waste prevention further down the path are clearer. If the opportunity is not seized to drive action across the EU, Member States will count the costs.

177.  We recommend that, within six months of entry into office, the new European Commission publish a five-year strategy on food waste prevention. This should set out a Roadmap to address the issues raised throughout this inquiry and to ensure that best practice identified in one Member State can be easily translated into action elsewhere. It is also vital that coordination between the Directorates-General is improved, with clearer divisions of responsibility.

  1. We consider a non-legislative approach to be appropriate initially, encouraging Member States to take action, such as the preparation of measurable food waste prevention plans. Should sufficient action not be identified within five years of publishing the strategy, a legislative approach should be adopted by the European Commission.

293   Regulation No 1291/2013 Back

294   Q 123 Back

295   Horizon 2020: Food & Healthy Diet, European Commission Back

296   Q 123 Back

297   Q 289 Back

298   Q 3, Q 27, Q 40, Q 51, Q 80, Q 100, Q 123, Q 204, Q 218, Q 247, Defra, FDF, INCPEN, Sodexo supplementary, Unilever, WRAP Back

299   Q 40, Q 51, Q 218, Q 204, Sodexo Back

300   Q 204 Back

301   Q 51, Q 204, WRAP further supplementary Back

302   Q 204 Back

303   Unilever Back

304   Q 117 Back

305   Q 62 Back

306   Copa-Cogeca Back

307   Q 63 Back

308   Q 196, Q 235, Q 241 Back

309   Q 117 Back

310   Q 38, Q 209, Q 281, Q 285 Back

311   Q 7 Back

312   Q 1 Back

313   Ibid., Q 26, CESA, Defra, FDF, Feeding the 5,000, IME, NLWA, Packaging Federation, Shropshire Council, Unilever, WRAP Back

314   WRAP supplementary Back

315   WRAP Back

316   Q 202, FDF, WRAP Back

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