food waste in Europe

food waste in Europe

The food waste in the EU is higher than its imports. The waste damages EU food security amid the cost-of-living crisis. That is the finding of a new report released by environmental NGO Feedback EU.

In 2021, the EU imported almost 138 million tonnes of agricultural products, for a total cost of €150 billion. At the same time, the report estimates that the EU wastes 153.5 million tonnes of food each year. A figure that is nearly double previous calculations, due to better availability of data on wasted on farms.

All in all, food waste is estimated to cost EU businesses and households €143 billion a year, and to cause at least 6% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, in a critical moment for our food systems, facing the double crisis of agricultural losses due to last summer’s unprecedented droughts and skyrocketing food prices due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, about 20% of EU food production ends up in the bin.

Notably, the amount of wheat wasted in the EU is equivalent to approximately half of Ukraine’s wheat exports. Meanwhile, 33 million people cannot afford a quality meal every second day in the EU.

In light of this scandal, an international movement called on the EU to set legally binding targets for member states to slash EU food waste.

EU laws to prevent food waste?

The EU addresses food waste within the Waste Framework Directive, which was last revised in 2018. The law requires member states to cut food waste at each stage of the food supply chain, monitor food waste levels and report back regarding progress made.

Notably, the directive reaffirms the promise, made by EU countries in 2015 within the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. However, without ambitious and binding targets for governments to attend, this objective is bound to fail.

Today, the Commission has the opportunity to propose ambitious legally binding food waste reduction targets for EU member states, within its proposal for a revision of EU waste laws expected for Spring 2023. Negotiations with the European Parliament and Council will then decide on the ultimate targets, which should ensure member states honor their international commitment to halve waste from farm to fork. If adopted, this would be the first legislation of its type in the world.

Halving food waste will also help the EU meet its commitments under the European Climate Law, the Global Methane Pledge, the Circular Economy Package, and the EU Green Deal.

If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas emission in the world, after US and China.

Time to cover the field

Besides demanding legally binding targets, civil society organizations and businesses call on the European Commission, the European Parliament and member states’ governments not to forget the food loss and food waste that happen at the production and processing level.

The report by Feedback EU estimates that 89.8 million tonnes occur at primary production – three times as much as is wasted in EU households. Yet most of this waste is likely to fall outside of the scope of current EU food waste measurement and national reporting, which currently excludes food left unharvested or used on farms, locking it out of targeted reduction.

To address this gap, the joint statement calls on the Commission to expand the scope of food waste measurement and include “edible food left unharvested or used on farm at primary production”.

Besides, focusing on retail and consumer food waste only risks creating perverse incentives to be offloaded onto producers and processors, rather than reduced.

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