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CEJA column, Issue 20, June 2015

One third of global food production is wasted every year. In this month’s regular column, Matteo Bartolini, President of CEJA (European Council of Young Farmers) looks at how this worldwide problem is being considered.

MF: One third of global production wasted annually - that’s a huge amount.
MB: Yes, it’s a very large figure. In developing countries, most waste happens in the earlier stages of the food supply chain, whereas in developed regions such as Europe, food is more likely to be wasted at the other end of the chain, when it lands in the hands of the processors, retailers and consumers. This leads to safe food going uneaten. It’s clearly an issue which must be addressed given escalating food demand and continuing poverty and hunger for many in developing countries. The issue is particularly topical at the moment considering that EXPO 2015’s theme is ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’ which has a heavy focus on food security, and therefore food waste.

MF: What is the EU’s strategy?
MB: In 2014, the European Commission put forward objectives for food waste reduction in the EU with the stated aim of reducing food waste by at least 30% by 2025. However, in its 2015 work programme, the Commission announced that it would withdraw this legislative proposal in favour of a new, more ambitious one to promote circular economy. This is the idea of reusing and recycling existing materials and products, aiming to ‘close the loop’ in order to avoid loss and waste. The European Commission has launched a public consultation on ‘Circular Economy’ in a bid to promote its new strategy on the subject which it is planning for late 2015. The consultation is open to everyone, so anyone should feel free to have their say if they would like to contribute!

MF: How is CEJA getting involved?
MB: We held a meeting of CEJA members on the topic in May, featuring a panel session with speakers from the European Commission’s department for Public Health, DG SANTE, and the European Consumers’ Organisation (BEUC). This led to an interesting debate between our young farmers and the speakers with a focus on several issues such as the unfairness of the food supply chain which tends not to help matters of efficiency and the avoidance of losses and waste. CEJA is currently in the process of developing a position on the subject of food waste because as young farmers we believe we have a stake in ensuring a sustainable future for our food production. Young European farmers are already the custodians of our countryside, but we also believe that we can contribute greatly to achieving food security across the world. However, in order to achieve this, food waste must be significantly reduced along the linkages that are present further on in the supply chain. This depends on a giving the food we buy greater value than consumers do at the moment.

MF: What is CEJA’s approach to reducing food waste?
MB: First of all, shorter food supply chains contribute to fewer links in the chain and therefore fewer opportunities for waste, but also bring the farmer and consumer closer together. This, along with information and education on the processes which go into producing our food, can help consumers assign more value to food products and therefore be more careful to avoid wasting it. However, there should also be information and education campaigns aimed at consumers on the subject of how to shop, store and use food in a more efficient and sustainable manner. Such information campaigns should be encouraged by relevant initiatives and support from the Union.

MF: Apart from consumers, where else do we need to see change of habits?
MB: Retailers also have a lot to answer for in terms of food waste, particularly in the aesthetic requirements they demand for many products. Because of such standards, many producers are unable to sell the fruit and vegetables which don’t look ‘perfect’ and, therefore, go to waste. Date labelling is also an area where progress should be made – there is still substantial confusion across the EU about the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates which must be clarified. Consumers should feel confident that these dates are both accurate and reliable.

MF: What about the area of food donations?
MB: Yes, here there is important scope for less waste. Both producers and retailers could do a lot more if the legislative framework was adapted to encourage food donations. For example, regulation should encourage and assist services which can collect unwanted food from farms and deliver it to those in need. These farms would not otherwise be able to donate it because of the costs involved and their already tight margins. Retailers however should be compelled to donate their unsold food rather than throw it away through mandatory regulation. Such legislation is expected to be introduced in France. This is a good example for other EU Member States to follow and could be initiated at EU-level within the circular economy strategy, among the other measures I have mentioned.

For more information on this and future developments in food waste and circular economy, keep a close eye on the CEJA website.

If you would like to get in touch with Matteo Bartolini or CEJA, email allusers@ceja.eu

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