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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

No place for food waste in a world where people are hungry

Retail Forum for Sustainability 2012 Annual Event: The Green Economy in the current economic situation “How does it influence consumers’ and retailers’ behaviours?”

Brussels, 9 October 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you again to Brussels and to address this third Annual Event of the Retail Forum. As we enter the second 3-year mandate of the Forum, allow me to start by thanking all of you for your commitment and for your contribution in pushing forward the resource efficiency and sustainability agendas.

I am pleased to see that, despite the difficult economic situation, the Forum’s commitments have increased by 30 % compared to 2011: Your commitments are increasingly ambitious and going in the right direction.

Now is the time for commitments and delivery; from the Commission, from Member States, and from the private sector. We have made the case for resource efficiency; it has been understood. We have integrated it into Europe 2020, into our industrial, transport and other policies. We have established consensus with at least the more dynamic elements of the private sector that investment is needed to enable the transition.
Now, as we put in place the policies to get us out of crisis and trigger new growth, we need ensure that we also get on the right longer term trajectory to our 2050 objective of de-coupling growth from resource use and its environmental impacts.


Ladies and gentlemen,

As I explained to you last year, retailers must play a very important role in this transition. Retailers are central in the supply chain. You are the link between producers and consumers. You are in a very strategic position where you can influence both production patterns and consumer behaviour.

When the supermarket arrived in Europe after the Second World War, it brought a very important cultural change, influencing lifestyles, diets and health by offering previously unimaginable increase in the range of food available. This food is available all year round and - through improvements in storage, packaging, presentation, and promotion - the level of quality was redefined. You can help make another major cultural shift today. Because what we need is another revolution. We need to change the way we produce, the way we consume and, basically, the way we live.

Today I want to emphasize one specific area in which we can work together in the coming months: preventing food waste.

Food waste is the perfect example of an area where you can play a crucial role.

Food waste occurs across the entire food supply chain from the agricultural production stage, to the storage, processing, distribution, management and consumption stages. But in the European Union and in North America, food waste predominantly occurs at the retail and consumption stages.

I believe that food waste is economically bad, environmentally bad and morally bad. In Europe we produce about 89 million tons of food waste per year. But that is only part of the story. This waste is all the more horrific when you consider the true scale of the resources required to produce those 89 million tons! We are talking about fuel and mining activity to make fertilizer, transport, refrigeration, packaging, toxic emissions to air and water, and the use of many other natural resources. Think of this - it takes between 5 and 10 tonnes of water to produce just one kilogram of beef.

And the story does not even stop there. We actually still bury or burn a lot of that waste. Relatively little is composted.

There is simply no place for avoidable waste in a resource constrained world, a world where we still have a billion hungry mouths, and another billion that are at increasing risk of cardio-vascular disease and diabetes. And avoidable food waste is not so difficult to avoid.

Less food waste could represent an important step in combatting hunger in the world. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) the rise in world population from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, will necessitate at least a 70 % increase in food supplies. We could achieve three-fifths of the total supply increase needed by 2050 if we simply stopped wasting food.

Less food waste would lead to a more efficient land use, better water resource management, more sustainable use of phosphorous, and it would have positive repercussions on climate change. The food and drink value chain in the EU accounts for 28 % of material resource use and 17 % of direct greenhouse gas emissions. Unconsumed food-mountains make a major contribution to global warming and food waste produces methane, which as a greenhouse gas is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

So, how can retailers contribute to all this?

Yes, I know that you only account for 4 % of food waste according to a Commission study. Your logistics are well organised and in fact food spends relatively little time in your hands or on your shelves. But as the largest providers of food, retailers have a particular responsibility when it comes to minimising food waste, both up and down the chain:

  • to guide consumers towards responsible choices, and make sure that irresponsible choices are not available,

  • to provide clear date labelling,

  • to provide clear and simple, harmonised food storage information,

  • to further develop food banks,

  • to rationalise your sales actions,

  • to increase food recovery initiatives,

  • and to encourage consumers to buy less standardized food, so that everything produced is given the highest value possible.

And looking up the food chain, you can also show leadership in environmental performance. You can influence producers to improve, and you can make more green products available.

One of the most obvious 'quick wins' is to ensure everyone really understands the difference between “best before”, "sell by", "display until" and “use by” labels. The Commission study estimated that 20 % of avoidable food waste was due to a
miss-understanding of "best before"….! That's millions and millions of tonnes of perfectly good, delicious, precious food, burned or sent to landfill just because two words are slightly miss-leading. Surely together we can do something about that?


Ladies and gentlemen,

Building on the objective we set in the Roadmap on resource efficiency last year to halve by edible food waste by 2020, and to virtually eliminate landfill by 2020, the Commission will present next year a Communication on the sustainability of the food system, which will have a strong focus on food waste.

We will set out what the Commission can, and will, do in the short and longer term to support a reduction in food waste: actions to ensure that the levels of food waste are properly monitored at all stages of the food chain, that targets are set and that Member States, and local governments have the right guidance and tools available to them to make significant reductions. We will ensure that the food we produce, and the resources used to produce it, are valued as highly as possible.

Our Communication will assess the barriers that currently exist to reducing food waste and it will set out how to break them down. At the same time we want to work with you, the retailers, to influence and support consumers in understanding how to purchase, store, prepare and dispose of food to get the best value for money out of it. I am delighted that you are making commitments to support these aims and I am looking forward to supporting you in taking this agenda forwards.

The Retail Forum must continue to lead by example and to stimulate other retailers to do their fair share. I strongly encourage you to continue along this path, so that the EU retail sector keeps up its contribution to achieving a truly resource efficient and green economy in line with its economic importance.

This is not only in the interest of people and the planet, but also in the interest of your profits.

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