Final Showdown: European nations set to define new era of food waste policy

A trialogue between the European Council, Commission and Parliament commenced today (30 May) to set out the policy frameworks for the next 14 years of European food waste action plans, and campaigners are urging the negotiators to "up their ambition".

Negotiations regarding the European Union’s (EU) food waste policy are likely to continue for two months. It will define whether legally-binding farm-to-fork targets will be introduced to member states, although the Commission and the Council are lobbying for relaxed legislation.

In March 2017, the European Parliament voted to introduce farm-to-fork targets to reduce the EU’s food waste by 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030. The decision was largely influenced by a campaign formed by This Is Rubbish, which gained the backing of more than 50 organisations across 18 nations and more than 70,000 signatures.

The Parliament enters the negotiations advocating for the food waste reduction targets to become legally binding by 2020, a review which would have to be approved by the Commission. Parliament also wants to establish a “food waste hierarchy” to promote redistribution measures over other uses such as burning for energy.

However, the Council and Commission are pushing for targets that don’t capture the entire value chain of food production and are also baulking from legally-binding proposals.

For This is Rubbish’s campaigner Martin Bowman, the negotiations mark the “final showdown” between the three parties, and warned that they must unite on an ambitious decision to help tackle threats related to climate change, land and water depletion and food poverty.

“After years of negotiations, the final show down is beginning to decide on the next 14 years of EU food waste policy, and it’s all to play for,” Bowman said. “We condemn the weakness of the European Council and Commission’s positions on food waste, and urgently call on them to up their ambition and unite behind the European Parliament’s ambitious food waste proposals.

“Binding farm-to-fork food waste targets are vitally needed to face the urgent challenges of climate change, land and water depletion, and food poverty.”

National food fight

The production process of food accounts for 8% of global emissions, while food waste – which includes losses in the consumer phase – generates $940bn in global economic losses annually.

The Council and Commission’s approach would fail to capture the wider food production value chain, meaning that consumer and supplier actions would be exempt from any deal.

This could still provide ramifications in the UK, which are still involved in the negotiations. Not only could the deal enter into law before the UK leaves the EU, but if a weaker standard is agreed, it could contrast against target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In response, campaigners are calling on UK ministers to back the Parliament’s ambitious targets.

According to WRAP estimates, 15 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK each year, comparing to around 41 million tonnes of food that is purchased – meaning that the amount of food wasted throughout the supply chain is equivalent to around a third of that purchased. 

UK consumers also throw away more than seven million tonnes of food each year, costing an average of around £700 per household. In fact, food thrown away by households has risen by 0.3 million tonnes in three years.

The Commission has been accused of bowing to industry lobbying in the past and was criticised by the European Court of Auditors earlier this year over its lack of action to tackle food waste.

“Targets to halve EU food waste by 2030 vitally need to include the whole supply chain from farm to fork, because up to 59% of the EU’s food waste occurs before it gets to the retail shelves, on farms and in factories,” Bowman added.

“We need the Commission to review of making these targets binding by 2020 to ensure member states take them seriously and we don’t end up with tokenistic action. We see time and again that voluntary codes have uneven rates of uptake and often deliver lacklustre results, whereas binding regulation delivers a level playing field and leads to swift and dramatic improvements. This is a big opportunity for the Council and Commission to rally round the Parliament’s inspirational food waste targets.”

Matt Mace

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