Ladies and Gentlemen,
There are days in the life of people and societies which mark a turning point, between a "before" and an "after"; I am convinced that when it comes to that absurd unethical and anti-economic situation which we call 'food waste' this is one of those days.
I am therefore delighted to be here with you today to inaugurate the very first meeting of the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste.
This Platform has been established by the Commission to lead EU efforts to fight food losses and waste from farm to fork and make solid progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of halving food waste between now and 2030.
Food waste is also closely related to other Sustainable Development Goals – zero hunger, good health and well-being, and life on land among others.
This is why I am certain that everyone here in this room shares the sense of urgency to tackle food waste.
This needless loss of precious natural and nutritional resources in the food value chain is unethical and immoral. It is shameful to throw away food in the world where more than eight hundred million people go to bed hungry.
It carries substantial environmental, economic and indeed -humanitarian consequences that are simply unacceptable.
By clarifying and monitoring resource flows in the food value chain, including food waste, we can help to identify input materials for other industrial uses, thereby promoting bio-economy.
Social innovation initiatives – aiming for instance to facilitate the use and re-use of surplus food – create new business models and job opportunities to address new needs and service requirements.
Let me mention that our work on food reformulation in order to propose healthier and more sustainable food product compositions goes hand in hand with the work done on food waste. Indeed, solutions proposed can lead to better product quality and shelf life.
We all know the facts. In the EU, around 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually with related costs estimated at EUR 143 billion.
88 million tonnes is a huge number. Even replacing it with elephants, airplanes or Eiffel Towers it remains just as incomprehensible. Imagine though, the quantity of food equivalent in weight to 96 (ninety-six) Atomiums is wasted in the EU – in just one day!
And while 20% of food produced in the EU is lost or wasted, at the same time 55 million people are not able to afford a quality meal every second day. Not to mention animals slaughtered in vain or climate-changing CO2 emissions irretrievably emitted.
So who is responsible and what can we do?
We are all responsible. Every person – and every country— needs to minimize food waste as part of the fight against poverty and hunger. Fighting food waste requires us to "rethink" collectively how we produce, market, distribute and consume food.
We all can do our part – as individuals at home; as stakeholders – retailers, producers, restaurant owners, farmers or community leaders – we can all contribute to reducing this enormous problem.
So I would like us to agree that we all have the mission to fight this battle and to become – using a nice expression which I recently learned in a food waste restaurant in Finland – a "food rescuer"! There are many good examples in other Member States, too. But what I particularly liked about this one was that there was a social aspect to it: jobs created for the young and the long-term unemployed.
I am confident that this new Platform, which brings together both public and private interests, will allow many good practices like this one to emerge and help strengthen co-operation and accelerate our progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goal targets for food waste reduction in the EU – in particular to cut by 50% both retail and consumer food waste by 2030.
The Commission's Communication on the Circular Economy called on Member States to meet those targets and all of them committed to do so.
This commitment is clearly expressed in the Commission's proposal for the revision of waste legislation which would require Member States to:
- reduce food waste at each stage of the food supply chain (including households);
- monitor food waste levels; and
- report back on progress.
The proposal also provides a legal base for adoption by the Commission of a methodology to measure food waste in the EU.
Let me briefly set out 5 key areas of action as we look to the future:
First, the Commission will elaborate a common EU methodology to measure food waste consistently in cooperation with Member States and stakeholders.
In doing so, we will build on the excellent work of the EU-funded research project FUSIONS – whose manual can be used by Member States, in cooperation with stakeholders, to quantify food waste levels at each stage of the supply chain.
Second, surplus food that is safe should, as a priority, be made available to people in need. At the moment, it is often easier to waste food than to give it away and this is simply unacceptable.
For this reason, the Commission will develop, in co-operation with Member States and stakeholders, guidelines to facilitate food donation in the EU. The new guidelines will clarify – as and where necessary – the food safety and food hygiene regulations with which food business operators must comply, as well as the fiscal rules applicable to food donation.
Third, the Commission will clarify and – wherever possible – lift any barriers which prevent the safe use of food resources along the food and feed chain.
I refer here, for instance, to the use of so-called "former foodstuffs" (such as unsold bread or broken biscuits) which are safe to eat but are no longer marketed for human consumption, as a possible resource for animal feed.
We need to ensure that such valorisation is not considered as "waste" anywhere in the EU and also ensure proper traceability of such food resources, so that they can be safely used in animal feed production.
Fourth, the Commission will also examine ways to improve the use of date marking in the food chain; and also its understanding by consumers.
"Best before" and "use by" dates found on food labelling guide not only consumers' choice and use of foods, but more generally are a crucial element of food supply chain management.
The Commission has recently launched new research to map date marking practices by food business operators and control authorities. Together with consumer research and other findings, this study will help inform future policies on date marking.
Last but certainly not least the reason why we are here today. The Commission has established this new Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste bringing together Member State experts, EU bodies, international organisations and all actors across the food value chain including Non-Governmental Organisations.
This Platform will help us to define the measures needed to achieve the food waste Sustainable Development Goals. In fact, it aims to help us get there faster by:
- facilitating inter-sector co-operation;
- sharing best practices and results; and
- evaluating progress made over time.
The Platform will represent the cornerstone of the outlined strategy to fight food waste by providing advice, experience and expertise to the Commission and Member States with the view to improve the coherent implementation and application of EU legislation, programmes and policies.
To fight food waste and promote the circular economy, we need to redesign our food supply chain, minimising waste and optimising resource use to generate value for consumers, producers and society.
This requires a shared understanding of the issues at stake and close cooperation between all concerned to implement real and lasting change.
I am confident that the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste can and will deliver – to provide the forum needed to accelerate our progress towards the SDG food waste target.
I am myself personally committed to this goal as member of the global Champions coalition of high level executives charged with mobilising action worldwide to achieve this SDG food waste target by 2030.
In this capacity, I would like to lay down a challenge to all Platform members.
While activity in relation to food waste prevention has grown in recent years, today only a few Member States have put in place national food waste prevention programmes and set targets to achieve food waste reduction in cooperation with all concerned.
By the end of my mandate in 2019, I would like the EU to be the region leading global efforts to fight food waste with active national food waste prevention programmes in place in all countries and involving all key stakeholders.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Rethinking our food systems might seem a daunting task, requiring actual superpowers. It certainly requires commitment, creativity and co-operation.
The EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste brings together a wealth of broad expertise and experience from the scientific community, government, business and civil society.
I thank you in advance for your active involvement which will help foster the cross-fertilisation of ideas, and support the definition of multi-sectorial solutions and the business cases needed to build healthy and sustainable food systems – where food waste is minimised and value gained from food produced is maximised.
I will follow the Platform's work closely and look forward to hearing your reflections and contributions.
And don't forget: be a hero – rescue food, rescue people, rescue planet!