The need to reduce food loss and waste is a global problem. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), about one third of all food produced around the world is lost or wasted in the journey from farm to fork. In the EU, annual food loss or waste is estimated at around 87.6 million tonnes.
Losses and waste exacerbate food insecurity, malnutrition and water consumption, while world hunger is increasing. Inefficiencies in the food supply and consumption chain also have serious environmental impacts. Reducing food loss and waste helps fight hunger and climate change.
The EU and its Member States are committed, through the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to halve per capita food waste at retail and consumer level by 2030 and to reduce food losses throughout production and supply chains.
What is the difference?
Food loss: occurs before food reaches the consumer (due to deficiencies in the food production and processing stage)
Food waste: occurs after food reaches the consumer (due to inadequacies at the consumption stage)
How the EU tackles food loss and waste
The EU and its Member States are taking concrete measures to prevent food loss and waste. Only when this is not possible do they suggest reusing, recycling or using the food for other purposes. The guiding principles are enshrined in the EU Waste Directive, which calls on Member States and citizens to:
- reduce food waste generation from primary production to distribution
- reduce food waste in households
- encourage the donation of food
- monitor and evaluate the implementation of their measures to prevent food waste
Other measures aimed at reducing food loss and waste could include reprocessing into non-food products such as animal feed, composting and others.
In the Council
In 2016, the Council made a political commitment to a number of initiatives such as improving the monitoring of food waste, raising awareness, improving understanding and use of the expiry date (including among consumers) and facilitating the donation of unsold food to charities.
In 2018, the Ministers of Agriculture and Fisheries made a first assessment of the progress made in implementing their political commitments. In this assessment, they summarised the measures taken at national level such as the extension of the list of foods exempted from ‘best before‘ labelling, the amendment of national legislation establishing waste classification rules, date labelling and donation rules.
European Green Deal
The Commission gave new impetus to tackling the issue of food loss and waste when it presented the European Green Deal in December 2019. The EU’s commitment to halve per capita food waste at retail and consumer level by 2030 will take shape in the policies and instruments set out in the new action plan for the circular economy, the farm-to-plate strategy and the biodiversity strategy, all published in 2020.