Plan to stop food waste becomes a dead letter: Barroso and the food lobby

EPA/ANDY RAIN

Food Waste Campaign in London, 2009. "Feeding the 5,000" free lunch feast to highlight the problem of food waste.

Barroso told environment commissioner Potočnik to block the paper before the May European elections.


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Jose Manuel Barroso and his Secretary-General of the EU Commission Catherine Day have blocked an internal communication proposing an action plan to reduce food waste. According to Green Belgian MEP Bart Staes, burying the internal communication entitled “Building a Sustainable European Food System” was ‘a cynical war on common sense’ from the side of the Commission.

It is estimated that up to 30% of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted (representing up to 1.6 billion tonnes of food). ln the EU, food waste is expected to rise to about 126 million tonnes a year by 2020,from a baseline of 89 million tonnes in 2006, unless action is taken to halt this trend. Given the scale of the total impacts of food production and consumption, food waste can be seen to be a major factor in terms of global resource use and global environmental concerns. For example, based on the 30% estimate, globally it may represent around 3-5% of total warming impacts, more than 20% biodiversity pressure and close to 30% of all of the worlds agricultural land.

This has also an impact on water: it has been estimated that more than 1.4 billion people live where water supplies cannot meet the agricultural, municipal, and environmental needs.

The action plan killed by the highest echelons of the Commission would have proposed a sustainable food system fully functional by 2050.

To start, the plan would have implied preventing or reducing food waste. “Even with conservative estimates of the costs and benefits involved,” said the report, “the commission has estimated that over a nine year food waste prevention programme in the EU, every €1 spent on food waste reduction would lead to: more than 250 kg food waste prevented, worth €500; €9 of municipal waste costs saved; and €50 of economic savings, linked to the environmental costs associated with GHG emissions and air pollution.”

For this, all Member States would have had to put in place national food waste prevention strategies aimed at reducing the levels of food waste by at least 30% by 2025, one decade from now. The Commission was asked to establish a food waste data collection regime for all member states. 

The Commission would have had to come forward with a Recommendation on Food Waste Definitions beginning of 2015.

In a chapter proposing “Better redistribution for human consumption”, it was proposed that retailers provide food to food banks. The Commission was asked to devise guidelines for donors and food banks on how to comply with relevant EU legislation including: types of food suitable for donation; guidance regarding interpretation of date marking and product shelf-life; conditions for storage, transport and traceability; fiscal rules applying to food donation; and legal liability.

Also, by recommending that in the determination of VAT for the donation of foods which are close to the “best before” date, or otherwise not fit for sale, but which can still be safely consumed, it was proposed that member states should consider that the value on which VAT is calculated should be zero.

The document also proposed the extension of the list of foodstuffs exempted from the obligation to include a minimum durability (or “best before” date), which today include items such as vinegar, sugar, salt, chewing gum, but could also include other foods for which removal of date marking would not pose a safety concern.

 Contacted by New Europe, Mark Gray, a spokesman for the Commission, said: “This is a classic Bart Staes Commission-bashing. President Barroso has taken this decision because it was felt that in the little time left –that is six weeks before the end of its mandate–, this Commission could not take such a major initiative and has decided to leave it for the next college.”

“This is not true”, Bart Staes told New Europe. “The paper was ready and presented for the first time in the Commission already end of April. It could have been adopted in spring, but they buried it already then.”

Contacted by New Europe, internal Commission sources confirmed Bart Staes’s allegations. According to our sources, the first reason given by Barroso to the environment commissioner Janez Potočnik in order to block the paper was that such a communication, made public only weeks before the May European elections, would have provided fuel for the Eurosceptics.

Later, after the EU elections, the paper was quietly buried… The food lobby was at work, say our sources. As it is, like in the case of the tobacco lobby, the result was just a delay in adopting a regulation. According to internal sources again, the paper seems now to have left the claws of the environment people and to have landed in the notoriously opaque DG SANCO, the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers.

 

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