EU looks to address food waste

An image showing food waste in a kitchen.
By Kate Adams, Senior European Policy Advisor, British Agriculture Bureau.

The Commission has published a proposal to amend the Waste Framework Directive. The proposal aims to reduce food waste by introducing mandatory food waste reduction targets for Member States by 2030.

Food production is one of the most resource intensive sectors and is a significant source of waste. Despite the EU's significant efforts to thwart food waste over the past years, 58.5 million tonnes (Mt) of food waste was generated in the EU in 2020. This resulted in emissions of 252 Mt of CO2e. Additionally, food waste incurs significant financial burden, where food wasted in 2020 in the EU had a market value of €132 billion.

What has been proposed

The proposals, made on 5 July, would amend the current Waste Framework Directive (WFD) which has been in place since 2008. This is the legislation that lays down basic waste management principles in the Union. The proposal would see mandatory food waste reduction targets implemented across the EU to reduce the environmental and climate impacts of food systems associated with food waste generation, and contribute to food security. 

The following reduction targets have been proposed by the Commission:

  • Target for primary production – no target %,
  • Target for processing and manufacturing – 10% reduction by 2030,
  • Target for retail and consumption stages – 30% reduction by 2030

These targets would be set at a Member State level and follow a step-wise approach. Member States would have full flexibility to determine the set of measures required to deliver these targets, and could therefore choose the most effective policy instruments. This could include actions such as behaviour change interventions, addressing inefficiencies in the food supply chain or encouraging redistribution. Member States would be required to monitor and assess implementation of measures.

The year 2020 should be used as a baseline for setting food waste reduction targets unless Member States can provide data for earlier years. Targets could be adjusted before 2030 to be less or more ambitious, depending on Member State progress. 

Impact on the agriculture sector

No target has been proposed for the primary production sector. However, the proposal outlines that Member States ‘shall take appropriate measures to prevent generation of food waste in primary production’. Furthermore, if the proposal passes in its current form, the European Commission would have to conduct an interim review of progress by December 2027 and modify or extend the targets to other stages of the supply chain. The scope could therefore be extended to include primary production.

The WFD does not apply in Northern Ireland.

Next steps

The proposal will now be negotiated with the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. It is expected that Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety will be the responsible Committee for the Parliament.

A ‘Have Your Say’ consultation will open shortly.

UK policy

In the same week that the European Commission proposal was published, reports that the UK Government has abandoned plans to force companies to report on food waste were made. The plans - outlined by Michael Gove five years ago when he was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - would have seen annual reporting of food waste and surplus, alongside mandatory reduction targets. 

In her letter to the environmental campaign group Feedback, current Environment Minister Rebecca Pow, outlined that there were no plans to implement the proposals in the UK, attracting criticism from environmental groups. 

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