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EU wastes more food than it imports, says new report

European Commission faces pressure to set legally binding targets to tackle food waste scandal.

The EU wastes more food than it imports, damaging EU food security amid the cost-of-living crisis, shows a new report from environmental organisation Feedback EU published today [1].
In 2021, the EU imported almost 138 million tonnes of agricultural products, costing €150 billion [2]. At the same time, the report ‘No Time to Waste’, based on the most up-to-date sources, estimates that the EU wastes 153.5 million tonnes of food each year. This figure is nearly double previous estimates, due to better availability of data on food wasted on farms. Official EU figures still exclude most on-farm food waste from EU member state measurement and reporting.
Food waste costs EU businesses and households an estimated €143 billion a year [3] and causes at least 6% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions [4]. An estimated 20% of EU food production is currently wasted [5]. Halving EU food waste by 2030 could save 4.7 million hectares of agricultural land [6].
In light of this food waste scandal, an international movement of 43 organisations from 20 EU countries issued today a joint statement [7] calling on the EU to introduce legally binding targets for member states to cut EU food waste from farm to fork by 50% by 2030, within scope of current reporting, and review extending reporting to cover all on-farm food waste. The signatories include NGOs Feedback EU, the European Environmental Bureau and Zero Waste Europe, food waste businesses Too Good to Go and OLIO, and members of the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste – the EU’s official advisory body on food waste.
The Commission is due to make a proposal for legally binding food waste targets for EU member states later this year, with formal adoption by 2023 [8]. Negotiations with the European Parliament and Council will then decide on the ultimate targets. If adopted, this will be the first legislation of its type in the world.
Frank Mechielsen, Executive Director at Feedback EU said: “At a time of high food prices and a cost-of-living crisis, it’s a scandal that the EU is potentially throwing away more food than it’s importing. The EU now has a massive opportunity to set legally binding targets to halve its food waste from farm to fork by 2030 to tackle climate change and improve food security. Setting targets lower than 50% would be planning to fail to meet Sustainable Development Goal 12.3. It’s critical that targets include waste on farms and from processing and food service businesses – if the EU limits targets to covering only retail and consumer food waste, our report finds that between 48-76% of total EU food waste would be excluded, which would leave most businesses causing food waste in supply chains unaccountable for food waste reduction.”
Piotr Barczak, Senior Policy Officer at European Environmental Bureau, said:
“All EU countries had committed to halve food waste within the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. However, almost ten years later, they have not achieved much, and our economies still generate incredibly high amounts of food waste. The EU must urgently include measures in the EU Waste Directives to cut food waste along the whole supply chain – including production processing and food services.”

Martin Häusling, Member of European Parliament and agricultural policy spokesman for the Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA) group, said:
“The European Commission has committed to halving food waste by 2030. However, it is not enough to set ambitious goals without ensuring their achievement with concrete legislative proposals, which need to be drafted by the European Commission in the upcoming months. In its resolution on the Farm to Fork strategy, the European Parliament made it clear that levers such as revising the best-before date must be approached in an ambitious manner. We furthermore need binding targets at every stage of the supply chain to achieve the necessary food waste reduction.”

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NOTES

More on food waste and EU food security:

  • The amount of wheat wasted in the EU is equivalent to approximately half of Ukraine’s wheat exports and a quarter of the EU’s other grain exports [9].

More on the report ‘No Time to Waste’:

  • In 2015, EU countries committed to meet Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, to halve food waste by 2030.
  • The report estimates that 89.8 million tonnes of food waste occur at primary production, three times as much as is wasted in EU households (32.5mt), meaning that total EU food waste may be nearly double previous estimates [10]. Most of this food waste is likely to fall outside of the scope of current EU food waste measurement and national reporting, which excludes food left unharvested or used on farms – locking it out of targeted reduction. The 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”.
  • Sources for food waste:
    • Primary production: 89.8 million tonnes. [11]
    • Processing: 15.4 million tonnes. [12]
    • Wholesale and retail: 5.3 million tonnes.
    • Food service: 10.5 million tonnes.
    • Households: 32.5 million tonnes. [13]

More on the Waste Framework Directive:

  • The Commission’s inception impact assessment on EU food waste targets examines a range of options, including a 50% reduction in food waste at all stages of the supply chain by 2030, but also significantly less ambitious options – for instance, a 15% reduction by 2030 [14]. It also considers setting a food waste target covering retail and household food waste only [15].
  • In 2017, the European Parliament called on the Commission to introduce a legally binding target for member states to halve food waste by 2030, covering “the whole supply chain, including in primary production, transportation, and storage” [16].
  • In 2017, over 125,000 people signed Change.org and Global Citizen petitions calling for the EU to introduce legally binding targets to reduce EU food waste by 50% from farm to fork by 2030 [17].
  • The 2018 revision of the Waste Framework Directive introduced a legal obligation for EU member states to measure their food waste from 2020 onwards, and report this to the Commission [18]. It also obliged the Commission to examine this food waste data, with a view to “considering the feasibility of establishing a Union-wide food waste reduction target to be met by 2030 on the basis of the data reported by Member States” by 2023. Member states submitted this food waste data to the Commission and the 2020 data is expected to be published in late 2022. However, this measurement excludes food left unharvested or used on farms, in line with the delegated decision on food waste measurement and reporting [19].
  • In 2012, the European Parliament called on the Commission to “to take practical measures towards halving food waste by 2025” including “specific food waste prevention targets for Member States” [20].

In 2016, the EU Court of Auditors heavily criticised the Commission for insufficient progress on food waste goals.

[1] https://feedbackglobal.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Feedback-EU-2022-No-Time-To-Waste-report.pdf
[2] https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Extra-EU_trade_in_agricultural_goods
[3] https://www.eu-fusions.org/phocadownload/Publications/Estimates%20of%20European%20food%20waste%20levels.pdf
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] https://eeb.org/library/advancing-resource-efficiency-in-europe/ – table 10
[7] https://eeb.org/library/statement-on-eu-legally-binding-targets-to-reduce-food-waste/
[8] https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/13223-Food-waste-reduction-targets_en
[9] https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6378854
[10] https://www.eu-fusions.org/phocadownload/Publications/Estimates%20of%20European%20food%20waste%20levels.pdf
[11] WWF, ‘Driven to Waste: The Global Impact of Food Loss and Waste on Farms – Technical Report’.
[12] FUSIONS, ‘Estimates of European Food Waste Levels’.
[13] http://www.unep.org/resources/report/unep-food-waste-index-report-2021
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-8-2017-0207_EN.html
[17] The Global Citizen petition is no longer available online. The Change.org petition is still live and has over 70,000 signatories: https://www.change.org/p/let-s-cut-europe-s-food-waste-in-half
[18] http://data.europa.eu/eli/dir/2018/851/oj/eng
[19] http://data.europa.eu/eli/dir/2018/851/oj/eng