Defra ‘sabotaging’ EU targets to halve food waste

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has been urged not to "row back" on the fight to cut food waste as leaks claim that his Ministry is trying to scupper an EU agreement on reduction targets.

A European Parliament deal in March agreed to halve food waste from farm-to-fork across the continent by 2030. But green campaigners today (22 September) insist that the EU Council will attempt to derail the targets in upcoming negotiations.

Leaked documents from earlier this summer reportedly show the Council has been trying to delay the introduction of targets until a methodology has been set. Sources suggest that the UK is among the countries holding back the Council’s position on setting waste reduction targets.

Meanwhile, a private letter to campaign group This is Rubbish from Defra, the UK’s representative in the Council, allegedly reveals that Gove’s department is opposed to setting EU food waste targets.

“Gove promises a ‘Green Brexit’, while his Ministry sabotages EU food waste policy abroad and sets inadequate voluntary action at home,” This Is Rubbish EU campaigns manager Martin Bowman said.

“The UK needs to up its ambitions domestically and throw itself behind targets to halve EU food waste, or at the very least stop dragging the rest of the EU back from making this historic commitment.”

‘Rowing back’

Ministers have previously claimed that the current Courtauld 2025 target of 20% will put the UK on course to halve food waste by 2030. The Courtauld Commitment currently includes a direct commitment to reduce waste from retail and consumers, although pre-farm gate measurement approaches to establish a baseline are under development and will be considered for inclusion at a review point in 2018. 

Sources clain the EU Council has been trying to restrict waste reductions to retail and consumers. This would sideline the food supply chain and potentially exclude up to 59% of the EU’s food waste from the specific reduction targets, a move described by campaigners as “scandalous” and “untenable”.

It is claimed that Council members are opposed to a food waste hierarchy, which prioritises feeding edible food to people and livestock. Defra must ensure that efforts are not derailed when the Council negotiates with the European Parliament over targets next Tuesday, campaigners warn.

Friends of the Earth food and farming campaigner Kierra Box said: “After promising to deliver a planet that is ‘greener, cleaner, better, richer’ to the next generation, Mr Gove can’t now row back on the fight to cut food waste.”

She added: “It is Michael Gove’s job to ensure we strengthen environmental protections, and develop a food system to be proud of – not impede progress on an issue that we know how to fix – wasting food is wrong and expensive, we need to stop.”

Defra has been approached by edie for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.

Food waste saga

UN figures show that approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted in the EU each year, equating to around a third of all food produced for human consumption. The UK remains one of the most wasteful of the EU’s 27 member states, costing the economy an estimated £13bn annually.

If a weaker EU standard is agreed, it would contrast against target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Earlier this week, a new SDG report claimed that not enough companies or governments are measuring and reporting food loss and waste, a key tool in analysing whether strategies are paying dividend.

UK retailer Tesco has looked to buck this trend, revealing yesterday that its businesses in the Republic of Ireland, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary have published their food waste data, following four years of publication in the UK. This came on the same day that Tesco struck a deal with its largest food suppliers for them to adopt the SDG to halve food waste by 2030.

On Wednesday, 400 consumer goods firms top multinationals including Tesco, Kellogg and Walmart committed to simplify food date labels globally by 2020. The proposals call for retailers and food producers to use one label at a time, either “use by” for perishable items or “best before” for non-perishables.

George Ogleby

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