EU moves to scrap ‘best before’ labels in bid to cut food waste

A group of European Union states led by the Netherlands and Sweden are calling on the European Commission to scrap 'best before' labels on a host of long life products in a bid to cut down on food waste.

The proposal, backed by the governments of Austria, Denmark, Germany, Luxemburg, Sweden and the Netherlands, is designed to reduce the estimated 90m tonnes of edible food that is thrown away throughout Europe each year.

Under the plan, manufacturers would no longer have to put a best before date on foods that people keep in their cupboards for a long time such as rice and pasta.

Dutch Minister for Agriculture Sharon Dijksma and her Swedish counterpart Eskil Erlandsson trigged the proposals to combat food waste. In a statement, Dijksma said: “It would be great if products such as coffee, pasta and rice would remain in European kitchen cupboards until they are consumed, and don’t end up unused in the bin for no good reason.

“It is a breakthrough that many countries have reached a decision about addressing food waste. Consumers are confused about the best before dates and that leads to many kilos of non-consumed food needlessly being thrown out. Addressing food shortages will increasingly become a huge challenge due to the growing world population. It is therefore important to take action now.”

She noted that around 15% of food waste is caused by the best before dates on packaging.

Current EU legislation requires all food to carry a best-before date, whether the products have a long shelf-life or not. The European Commission has set up a working group to discuss food waste at EU level and is set to release legislative proposals in June, according to media reports.

At present the UK Government has not backed the proposals. A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We are fully engaged with discussions on ‘best before’ dates and are open to the possibility of exempting some foods from the mandatory requirement of giving a best before date, such as foods with a high acid content.

“However, we believe the connection between these labels and food waste requires further investigation to ensure the removal of date marks doesn’t have the opposite effect to that intended.”

The calls to remove certain best before labels come just a month after the House of Lords EU Committee called for “urgent action” on food wastage across Europe.

Peers said that it was it was “morally repugnant” that at least 90m tonnes of food were dumped each year in the EU, including 15m in Britain.

According to the Committee, supermarkets should be urged to scrap buy-one-get-one-free deals to help prevent food waste. Peers also called for Government action to encourage retailers to redistribute unsold food, where safe, for human and animal consumption rather than to be recycled via anaerobic digestion.

Liz Gyekye

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