GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 668, 22 September 2022

EU's food waste 2022: Three takeaways
Padmashree Anandhan

On 20 September, environmental organization Feedback EU released a "No Time to Waste" report on how the EU's food waste exceeds its imports, thereby affecting food security in the EU. It reported that the EU imported 138 million tonnes of agricultural products, but nearly 153.5 million tonnes of food was wasted yearly. To address the issue, the European Environmental Bureau issued a statement urging the EU and European Commission to adopt a legal framework regulating the member states to cut down on food waste. It asked the "EU member states to collectively achieve a 50% reduction in EU food loss and waste by 2030."

Three takeaways
First, agricultural waste as a major contributor. The report categorized the sources of food waste into five groups. One, at the point of primary production, which includes harvest waste and post-harvest waste resulting from the farming process, storage, transport, disease, and poor harvesting methods. The food waste from this segment was found to be the highest, with close to 90 million tonnes from the EU farms, mostly from low-income countries than high-income countries (WWF-UK report 2021). Two, household food waste emerged as the second highest with 32.5 million tonnes. Three, processing units involving manufacturing, transport, distribution, and packaging which accounted for 15.4 million tonnes of food waste (Fusion 2016 report; no recent data available). Four, food services like restaurants, hotels, canteens, and caterers contributed to 10.5 million tonnes of food waste. Five, wholesale and retail centres, such as supermarkets, supply chain lines, and distribution, contributed 5.3 million tonnes of food waste (UNEP 2021 report). A major reason for the huge volume of agricultural waste was cosmetic rejection, where buyers expect food products in the exact demanded size, shape and colour. However, under conditions beyond their control, such as weather and pest infestation, farmers are unable to meet these cosmetic demands. Such parameters narrow price fluctuation making it more difficult for farmers to prevent wastage. 

Second, a lackadaisical approach to the food waste management framework. The report outlines the EU's steps in setting up a legal framework to reduce food waste, which has been sluggish. Efforts by the European Commission began in 2010 to set specific targets to bring down food waste. In 2012, the European Parliament asked the Commission to take measures to bring down the waste by half by 2025, upon which the Commission proposed the "Circular Economy Package in 2014," but withdrew the plan since it was felt to be ambitious. After several negotiations between the European Council, Commission, and Parliament, a poor set of waste reduction targets were set at attaining a 30 per cent cut by 2025 and a 50 per cent cut by 2030. The recent initiative was in 2018, when the European Commission decided to make changes to its "Waste Framework Directive (WFD)", enforcing its member states to measure and report on waste quantity beginning from 2020. All these processes have only slowed down the setting of targets.

Third, interlinked impact on climate and gender. For the EU, which is currently experiencing peak summer temperatures and heatwaves, reducing the contributing factors to climate change is critical. Food waste contributes to six per cent of the total emissions. Europe's Green Deal targets to regulate the food system to be more environmentally friendly and healthy, but the economic effect is becoming starker. The report finds that climate change affected the economies of eastern and northern Europe. With climate change, women are most affected without access to resources, especially from marginalized communities and low-income countries. Therefore, to beat the GHG emissions, achieve SDG goals (12.3), and embrace nature-based solutions, food wastage control measures are more important than ever for Europe. 

Fourth, the applicability of the farm-to-fork reduction strategy. Despite the decelerated progress in addressing food waste, the report recommends the "farm-to-fork" strategy that will bind all the EU member states to the 50 per cent reduction target by 2030. Although there is less evidence of businesses and member states following the food waste reduction practices, with appropriate policies, the target is attainable as per the report. The major problem in implementing this are measurable indicators and ones that can ensure participation of related companies and regular reporting from the business sector. The "farm-to-fork" strategy suggests the following to meet the challenges. One, similar legislation like Directive 2002/96/EC, which curbs electrical and electronic waste that led to increased recycling. Two, imposing appropriate tax against wastage. Three, through a survey, to assess and ensure the compliance of the food waste contributors. There are many laws in place in France and the UK, such as "national-level regulation," "Right to Repair law," and "Groceries Code Adjudicator," which serve as models for other member states to adopt food waste reduction targets.