Making Food Waste History: A Call To Action

Today the European Parliament votes to formally adopt the revised Waste Framework Directive, which will play a huge role in shaping the future of EU action on food waste.

Current rates of food waste in the EU are estimated at around 88 and 143 million tonnes per year. The reduction of food waste is therefore an issue of urgent and extreme importance:  in 2015, all member states of the United Nations agreed upon a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) including the aim of halving food waste by 2030. Sadly, the EU’s Waste Framework Directive includes no such binding commitment, but with the official passage of the Directive into law, and the ensuing two-year period for member states to transpose the legislation into national law, comes a huge opportunity. Individual member states will now have the chance to take a firm stand on the issue and establish a positive future trend for food waste reduction by introducing binding national targets.

The Waste Framework Directive was welcomed by civil society organizations working on food waste, including Slow Food, but also faced criticism for the lack of clarity, commitments and vague definitions. According to the new rules, 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 problem lies in the definition of what constitutes ‘food waste’: currently only postharvest food waste through to consumer food waste will be included. Slow Food is instead 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.

Campaigners also criticized the European Council for blocking the introduction of a food waste hierarchy in the Framework, meaning that the EU will rely on a generic waste hierarchy which does not capture the priority of food waste prevention over other measures such as redistribution of food to charity, feed to livestock and anaerobic digestion. Furthermore, 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 on food waste by 2030.

Martin Bowman, EU Campaigns Manager for This Is Rubbish, and founder of the EU food waste campaign, said, “We’re delighted to see the introduction of mandatory annual reporting of food waste from 2020 onwards, because for too long lack of data has prevented food waste being tackled meaningfully. However, we are deeply concerned that harvest food waste is provisionally excluded from the compulsory measurement despite being within the scope of Article 2 of Regulation (EC) 178/2002. It is vital that food that is perfectly edible to eat but ploughed back in or left to rot on farms be included in measurement because this makes up an estimated 36% of Europe’s food waste according to the FAO – we urge the Commission to include this in its methodology.”

“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”, said Ursula Hudson, Slow Food Germany President. On April 28th, the Slow Food Youth Network will host the second edition of World Disco Soup Day –an event where participants cook, eat and dance together while raising awareness on the amount of food that goes to waste. The first edition saw tens of thousands of people help turn more than 5000 kilograms of food into 25,000 meals, with more than a hundred Disco Soups organized in 40 countries across 5 continents. These events help to engage citizens on a topic of huge importance and promote a zero-waste culture. “Events such as these are 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 are calling on national governments to play a leading role in the reduction of farm to fork food waste in the EU and introduce binding targets of reduction of 50% by 2030”, concluded Hudson.

Despite the shortcomings and level of ambiguity found in the text, the Framework still represents a big opportunity for member states to commit to a drastic reduction of food waste. On both an individual and global level, food waste reduction can also go a long well in helping to promote global food sufficiency and move beyond the discourse of achieving food security through increased production. Citizens and national governments can and should play a key role in helping to achieve these goals.

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