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Reducing food waste in the EU

An article outlining the EU policy and targets relating to food loss and waste including The Green Deal. Let's explore.

Research has found that ‘legislation and policies are responsible for driving food waste[1]. However, they can also act as supporting frameworks for waste reduction.

The food waste problem

Food waste is a relatively new policy area. It’s being recognised as a global problem and has moved up the public and political agenda within the last 10 years.

In response to the FAO 2011 report [2] about the shocking amounts of food loss and waste globally, the EU became committed to tackling the problem. Food waste was first mentioned explicitly in 2011 with the adoption of the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe.

However, little was achieved in the following years. No legally binding policies focused on food waste were implemented and any policies that did exist were not aligned among member states. In 2016, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) issued an evaluation of the EU’s role in food waste.

An evaluation of food waste

Their report found that action taken to date was fragmented and intermittent. There was no common definition for food waste nor an agreed baseline of target waste reductions. They concluded that the EU was not effectively combating food waste [3].

The broad and complex range of relevant EU policies that influence food waste generation, prevention and valorisation contribute to the problem.

10 policy areas related to food waste

Research projects identified 10 policy areas related to food waste [4]: waste and resource policy, hygiene and food safety, use of former food for animal feed, agriculture and rural development, fisheries policies, unfair trading practices, bioenergy, on-pack product information and date labelling, changing consumer behaviour and voluntary cooperation in the food chain [4, 5].

Each of these sectors has a different perspective on the problems and solutions of food systems. Deciding on a large-scale action plan is complicated, since issues vary from country to country, season to season, and along the food supply chain.

There was not even one single definition of the basic term, ‘food’! Agricultural produce is only defined as ‘food’ once it’s harvested and is intended for human consumption. Therefore, what’s lost on the farm (eg, unharvested crops, or crops redirected for compost or animal feed) may not be accounted for in estimations of food loss.

The solutions

The Green Deal

On 11 December 2019, the European Green Deal was presented. The aim is to make Europe ‘climate neutral’ by 2050, boosting the economy through green technology, creating sustainable industry and transport, and cutting pollution.

There are 9 policy areas [6]:

  • Biodiversity – measures to protect the ecosystem
  • From Farm to Fork – ways to ensure more sustainable food systems
  • Sustainable agriculture – common agricultural policy (CAP)
  • Clean energy – opportunities for alternative, cleaner sources of energy
  • Sustainable industry – ways to ensure more sustainable, more environmentally-respectful production cycles, through a new Circular Economy Action Plan
  • Building and renovating – the need for a cleaner construction sector
  • Sustainable mobility – promoting more sustainable means of transport
  • Eliminating pollution – measures to cut pollution rapidly and efficiently
  • Climate action – making the EU climate neutral by 2050 (net-zero greenhouse gas emissions).

As part of the new ‘Farm to Fork strategy,’ the EU states that it will step up its action to prevent food loss and waste along the whole food value chain.

Through this strategy, the Commission will propose legally binding targets for food waste reduction by 2023. Also, the Commission is committed to revising EU rules on date marking (‘use by’ and ‘best before dates’) and food losses at the production stage will also be investigated.


The EU is committed to SDG Target 12.3 to halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030 and reduce food losses along the food production and supply chains.

Working together

In 2016 the European Commission also launched the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste [9]. This is a unique forum that brings together key actors representing both public and private interests – from farm to fork – towards the SDG 12.3 Target.

In December 2019 the EU Platform launched recommendations for action to help accelerate the progress towards food loss and waste reduction targets.

These included food waste measurement methodologies, food donation guidelines, guidelines for the better use of former foodstuff to feed and better use of date marking.

  • Food donation: before 2017 there were many barriers to food redistribution within the EU regulatory framework (eg, food safety, labelling, VAT). The facilitation of food donation is currently a priority area of work in the EU. When food surplus is generated that is safe and fit for human consumption, the preferred destination is to make it available to people in need.
  • Food to animal feed: in 2018 the commission adopted EU guidelines to enable food that’s unsuitable for human consumption (eg unsold bread, broken biscuits), to be used as animal feed where it’s safe to do so.
  • Date marking: the Commission will propose a revision of EU rules on date marking by 2022. Guidance clarifying legal requirements for more consistent date marking practices by food business operators and control authorities is expected to be finalised by 2021.


New and consistent data on food waste levels will allow a baseline to be defined against which legally binding targets will be proposed by 2023.

Legislation adopted in May 2018 requires member states to monitor and report on food waste levels as well as implement national prevention programmes.

On 3 May 2019, the Commission adopted a common EU methodology to measure food waste which came into effect in October 2019. It’s based on a common definition of food waste. This will ensure coherent monitoring levels across the EU. Members started collecting data on food waste from 2020 and will report on national food waste levels by mid-2022.

If you’d like to learn more about tackling food waste, check out the full online course, from EIT, below.

© EIT Food
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From Waste to Value: How to Tackle Food Waste

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