EU ‘wastes more food than it imports’, claims new report

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Image:Getty/lucentius
Image:Getty/lucentius

Related tags: Food waste

The European Commission is facing calls to set legally binding targets to tackle food waste after a new report exposes what it calls a ‘food waste’ scandal.

The EU wastes more food than it imports, damaging EU food security amid the cost-of-living crisis, claimed the report from environmental organisation Feedback EU.

In 2021, the EU imported almost 138 million tonnes of agricultural products, costing €150 billion, the group said. At the same time, the report ‘No Time to Waste’ 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, it said. 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 and causes at least 6% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions. An estimated 20% of EU food production is currently wasted. Halving EU food waste by 2030 could save 4.7 million hectares of agricultural land, the report added.

Feedback EU, an international movement of 43 organisations from 20 EU countries issued a joint statement 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. 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, added: “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.”

Consumers, meanwhile, are demanding more solutions from the industry about how they can avoid food waste.

A separate report by Unilever through Ipsos Digital, claimed 60% of Spaniards are committed to reusing food in their homes.

According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, during 2020 Spanish households threw away 1,364 million kilos/liters of food, with an average of 31 kilos/litres per person. Despite these figures, the report indicates that Spaniards are increasingly aware, although the majority, 85%, demand more information and training in this regard.