Farming News - Landmark new EU food waste laws voted through

Landmark new EU food waste laws voted through

18 Apr 2018

On 18th April the European Parliament will vote to formally adopt the revised Waste Framework Directive, which will shape the next 13 years of EU action on food waste as part of the Circular Economy Package. EU food waste is estimated at between 88 and 143 million tonnes per year.

The vote marks the Waste Framework Directive's official passage into law. It will be published in June, and then EU member states will have two years to transpose the legislation into their national law by 2020 - including the UK, because this falls within the Brexit transition period where the UK is still subject to EU law.

The revised Waste Framework Directive will introduce an "indicative" Union-wide target of 50% food waste reduction by 2030, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.

The target is not binding for member states, who are only obliged to "reduce" food waste "as a contribution to" SDG 12.3, although member states are encouraged to set national targets. The wording of the Directive leaves it open for member states to interpret whether they set targets for 50% reduction of food waste from farm to fork, or just target 50% reduction for retail and consumer food waste and more vaguely aim to reduce pre-retail food waste.

Defra were among the Ministries pushing most for EU food waste legislation to be delayed and diluted, and the UK government has recently slashed WRAP's budget, the organisation responsible for the UK's main food waste reduction agreement Courtauld 2025 - leading to 25 job losses in January 2018.

A huge EU wide movement founded by This Is Rubbish of over 125,000 petition signatories and 67 organisations from 20 EU countries is urging EU member states including the UK to act ambitiously as soon as possible to introduce binding national targets to reduce their countries' food waste by 50% from farm to fork by 2030. Up to 59% of Europe's food waste occurs prior to the retail stage according the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, on farms and in manufacturing, so campaigners say it is vital not to exclude this from the 50% reduction targets.

Member states will be obliged to report their food waste annually from 2020 onwards - a big development, since lack of data about food waste has significantly held back efforts to understand and tackle food waste in the EU so far. The methodology for measuring food waste will be agreed by March 2019, which will define the scope of the mandatory reporting - the race is now on to define what food waste is included. Currently postharvest food waste through to consumer food waste will be included, but campaigners are urgently calling for harvest food waste to be included in compulsory reporting too because according to the FAO's estimates it accounts for up to 36% of Europe’s food waste. Not measuring and reporting harvest food waste - for instance, food that is ploughed back into the field despite being perfectly edible - would effectively lock this substantial food waste out of EU reduction targets. The UK through WRAP currently has good data on manufacturing through to consumer food waste, and is hoping to collect the first authoritative data on the UK's primary production food waste this year, currently estimated at 2.5 million tonnes annually.

The introduction of a food waste hierarchy was blocked by the European Council, meaning that the EU will rely on a generic waste hierarchy which does not capture nuances such as redistribution of food to charity, feed to livestock and anaerobic digestion. Campaigners are calling for specific food waste hierarchy to be introduced as part of the secondary legislation in the methodology.

In a move heavily criticised by campaigners, a review of introducing binding food waste reduction targets has been delayed until December 31st 2023, just 7 years before the deadline to achieve the SDG 12.3 by 2030.


Martin Bowman, EU Campaigns Manager for This Is Rubbish, and founder of the EU food waste campaign, said:

"Wednesday's vote is a vital step forward in Europe recognizing the huge importance of reducing food waste for tackling climate change, depletion of water and land, and biodiversity loss - and now the UK needs to act on this wake up call. We call on Michael Gove and Defra to set binding targets to halve UK food waste from farm to fork by 2030, to fund this adequately, and to set tax incentives to ensure food is moved up the food waste hierarchy. This is vital for our environment and food security - if global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest carbon emitter in the world after the US and China, and the land used to grow food that is never eaten globally is equivalent to the landmass of India and China combined."
"Compared with ambitious action on plastics, food waste is being notably neglected by Gove. UK funding for food waste reduction has been consistently cut - with WRAP losing 25 staff in January. Defra was repeatedly named to us as one of the Ministries most opposing ambitious EU action on food waste, alongside Eurosceptic and Eastern European countries. Gove's recent announcement of a £0.5 million food redistribution fund seemed like a fig leaf to distract from these wider cuts to food waste reduction - not to mention cuts to welfare and food poverty alleviation, which should not be merely papered over by voluntary food redistribution. We need urgent action to stop climate change, and tackling food waste needs to be a part of that."
"The voluntary agreement Courtauld 2025 is fantastic, but it only sets a target of 20% food waste reduction by 2025 - not enough to get us to a 50% farm to fork reduction by 2030. The target was set low because it is a voluntary target and there was fear that the industry wouldn't sign up if it was more ambitious - despite this, there is still uneven and patchy participation from industry even with the lower targets. Courtauld needs to be upgraded and strengthened - setting a binding national targets to halve UK food waste from farm to fork by 2030 would ensure compulsory and ambitious participation from industry on a level playing field. The UK is currently aiming to meet Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 through a narrow interpretation of the goal as only meaning 50% reduction of food waste at consumer and retail level, and creative use of early baseline years to fiddle the figures. That's not good enough - we need binding 50% reduction of food waste from farm to fork by 2030."
Floriana Cimmarusti, Secretary General of Safe Food Advocacy Europe said:

“The Waste Framework Directive, which will be voted this Wednesday, undoubtedly represents a step forward in tackling food waste in Europe. However, it is clear that if we really intend to solve this issue, indicative targets will not be enough. Therefore, SAFE calls on Members States to set national binding targets for 50% reduction of food waste from farm to fork by 2030.”

Ursula Hudson, Slow Food Executive Committee member and President of Slow Food Germany:

“Slow Food believes that to meaningfully address the problem of food waste, we must start at the source: priority must be given to the prevention of food waste itself. The Slow Food Youth Network’s World Disco Soup Day -which takes place on April 28 – is Slow Food’s way of celebrating and giving value back to food while raising awareness on the importance of reducing food waste. It is an occasion for us all to think about where our food comes from and how to feed the population of the future. This is why we stand united with This Is Rubbish and call on all national governments to introduce binding targets of farm to fork food waste reduction of 50% by 2030 and give priority to the prevention of food waste.”
Piotr Barczak, Waste Policy Officer for European Environmental Bureau said:

"When we are wasting food we are also wasting resources such as water, land and energy used in agriculture and throughout the supply chain.  The economic impact on taxpayers is such that households could save over €60 billion thanks to a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030. The EU legislation on food waste will be finalised in the coming years. But since we already have the technology and know-how necessary to reserve this trend now, EU governments  should implement binding rules now before it’s too late."

Liz Goodwin, member of food waste Champions 12.3 and Senior Fellow and Director, Food Loss and Waste at the World Resources Institute, said:

"Given the economic, social and environmental benefits of tackling food loss and waste, we should aspire for companies and nation states to halve food loss and waste from the point it is ready to harvest through to consumer."