House of Lords EU Committee calls for urgent action on food waste

THE HOUSE OF LORDS EU Committee has called for urgent action on food waste in Europe highlighting that at least 90 million tonnes of food is wasted across the EU each year.

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In a report, the Committee urges action on the basis that food waste represents a financial and environmental loss of resources. The 15 million tonnes of food wasted in the UK each year equates to a financial loss to business of at least £5 billion per year. Environmentally, the carbon footprint of worldwide food waste is equivalent to twice the global greenhouse gas emission of all road transportation in the USA.


The Committee finds that efforts across the EU to reduce food waste are ‘fragmented and untargeted’ and call on the new European Commission, to be established in November, to publish a five-year strategy on food waste prevention within six months of taking office.


The report also calls for retailers, and in particular the big supermarkets who dominate food sales in the UK, to act more responsibly in limiting food waste by both farmers and consumers. In particular the Committee says that supermarkets should move away from incentives such as ‘buy one get one free’ for certain types of produce, which may result in more food waste at home. They should also work harder to avoid cancelling orders of food that has already been grown by producers a practice which leads to unsold, but perfectly edible, food being ploughed back into the fields or left unharvested. It is estimated that millions of tonnes of food is wasted annually in this way.


The Committee calls 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. They suggest that VAT rates could be amended and tax breaks offered to encourage supermarkets to donate edible unsold food to food banks rather sending it to be composted. This would form part of a refocussing of EU policy in this area away from a ‘waste hierarchy’ toward a ‘food use hierarchy’ that stresses the use by humans of food initially intended for human consumption.


The report also welcomes the review on legislation regarding the feeding of food waste to animals. The transfer of human food waste to animals should, however, only take place if scientific evidence establishes that it is safe to do so.


Commenting, Baroness Scott of Needham Market, Chairman of the Sub-Committee that conducted this inquiry, said:


“Food waste in the EU and the UK is clearly a huge issue. Not only is it morally repugnant, but it has serious economic and environmental implications. The fact that 90 million tonnes of food is wasted across the EU each year shows the extent of the problem and explains why we are calling for urgent action. Globally, consumers in industrialised nations waste up to 222 million tonnes of food a year, which is equivalent to nearly the entire level of net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.


“We cannot allow the complexity of the issues around defining and monitoring food waste to delay action any further. We are calling on the new European Commission, which will be appointed in November this year, to publish a five year strategy for reducing food waste across the EU, and to do so within six months of taking office.


“There is also much that can be done domestically, and in particular by the big retailers, to reduce food waste. We are urging the supermarkets to look again at offers such as ‘buy one get one free’, which can encourage excess consumption which leads to food waste. We also think supermarkets must work much more closely with their suppliers so as not to cancel pre-ordered food which has been grown, is perfectly edible and is then ploughed straight back into the field.


“The UK Government have a role to play in encouraging cooperation throughout the supply chain. They can also consider whether tax incentives might be used to encourage retailers to ensure unsold food that is still fit for human consumption is actually eaten by people, for example by working with food banks, rather than sent to compost or for energy recovery, or even landfill, as is often the case at present.


“We were shocked at the extent of food waste in the EU. Especially given the current economic challenges the EU faces, it is an absolutely shocking waste of resources. Some efforts are already being made, which is very positive, but much more can be done, and so we are calling on the EU, the Government, businesses and consumers to make sure it is.”


Other recommendations in the report include:


  • The complexity of defining and measuring food waste must not be allowed to delay action on its reduction at the EU and national level.
  • The UK Government should work closely with WRAP to ensure that cuts to WRAP’s budget do not undermine efforts to reduce food waste.
  • In implementing the Common Agricultural Policy, the Government should consider reducing on-farm food waste as a key objective given the economic benefits this could produce.
  • Technology may present new opportunities for reducing food waste with, for example, smart packaging that accurately reflects the edibility of food rather than arbitrary use-by dates which have to err on the side of caution. The Committee says the EU must ensure its food packaging Directive does not unintentionally lead to more food waste.


Download the full report HERE