Help us reveal the scale of Europe’s farm food waste
Tackling food waste on farms now has a deadline for action. Find out more about the problem of farm food waste and what you can do about it.
We have until the 4th April to stop the EU excluding the millions of tonnes of food wasted on farms from EU measurement and action. Martin Bowman, Feedback campaigner on farm food waste, explores why farms shouldn’t be sidelined – and how you can take action, in particular if you are an EU citizen outside the UK.
How much fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables which could have been eaten lie rotting in fields around the EU, or are ploughed back into the soil? According to Feedback’s research and experience working with farms, the answer can be enormous, yet so far EU governments have resisted steps to measure farm-level waste so it can be properly tackled.
WRAP recently estimated that the UK’s food waste on farms was a whopping 2.5 million tonnes of food, 20% of the food wasted in the country. But the UK, too, needs far better data if it wants to seriously tackle food waste on farms (currently it relies on informed estimates) – and whatever the UK’s future relationship with the EU, progress in Europe usually helps drives change in the UK.
Our hopes were raised last year when the EU agreed sweeping reforms to its waste legislation, with food waste policies introduced for the first time. A huge cross-European campaign called for the EU to create compulsory targets for EU countries to halve their food waste from farm to fork by 2030. Feedback worked with a coalition formed by This Is Rubbish of 67 groups from 18 EU countries and thousands of petition signatories to build momentum for EU action. But member states of the European Council blocked or watered down most of these measures. The Directive that was eventually agreed on was still a big step in the right direction – although it only called on EU countries to voluntarily commit to halve their food waste (and then, only at retail and consumer level), leaving it largely up to member states whether they take ambitious action or not. However, a significant breakthrough was the requirement on EU countries to measure and report their food waste.
Keeping it secret
Generally, whereas we know a lot about plastics and other recycling, food waste, where it occurs and what happens to it, has been shrouded in mystery. Now, from 2020 onwards, EU countries will be required to create robust data on their food waste levels in manufacturing, retail, catering and households sectors, shining a hugely useful light into the current darkness. Finally, we’ll know how much food is actually wasted, where and why.
Yet waste on farms is set to remain shrouded in darkness. The EU have just published their framework for EU countries to measure and report their food waste, and they have excluded in-field food waste. This is a disaster, given estimates put the proportion of EU food waste which occurs on farms at between 11% and 34% – between 10 and 47 million tonnes.
That’s a huge quantity of food – and the emissions, waste and soil fertility which went into producing it – which would be effectively sidelined from international action unless we convince the Commission to change track.
A problem of framing?
Again and again in the international literature on food waste, studies talk as if so-called “food loss” (a technical term for food waste at production level) is firstly only a problem in poorer countries, and secondly a problem which results solely from inadequate infrastructure like cool storage, which has technical solutions. This conveniently obscures that in rich countries there is a comparably large quantity of food waste on farms, and it is largely due to power relations between farmers and their buyers – retailers and middlemen. Feedback’s reports on UK farmers and on international farmers supplying Europe found evidence that farmers were being forced to waste food due to a mixture of cosmetic rejections of food for being the wrong size, shape or colour, unfair practices like last minute order cancellations, and fear of losing contracts in cases of undersupply leading to systemic overproduction and occasional price crashes. We’ve seen first hand through our Gleaning Network the truly stunning quantities of nutritious food that can be simply left in the field.
In short, the risks and costs of food waste are being dumped onto farmers – causing them a massive loss of money, time and resources wasting food they’ve toiled in the fields to grow. This food waste causes a huge loss of edible nutritious food – our UK study estimated that 2-4 million people could be fed their 5 a day of fruit and veg all year from the food wasted on UK farms annually. With estimates that England could run short of water in 25 years, British soil has only 100 harvests left unless degradation is reversed, and with the UN warning we have 12 years to avert disastrous levels of climate change, we need urgent action on food waste to avert catastrophe.
Time for change
Keeping Europe in the dark about farm food waste will harm EU farmers who’ll continue having the costs and risks of food waste dumped on them, prevent edible food getting to people who need it, and harm the environment. We can’t allow that to happen.
That’s why we’ve teamed up with Safe Food Advocacy Europe to ask people across Europe to respond to the Commission’s consultation, to urge them not to exclude farms from EU food waste measurement and reporting.
Please take action! (Particularly if you’re an EU resident outside the UK). Click here for our guide to completing the consultation!
What can you do next?
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