EU wastes 153m tonnes of food a year – much more than it imports, says report

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The EU wastes more food than it imports and could puncture food price inflation by simply curbing on-farm waste, according to a report.

About 153m tonnes of food in the EU are frittered away every year, double previous estimates and 15m tonnes more than is shipped in, according to the study’s estimates.

The amount of wheat wasted in the EU alone is equal to roughly half of Ukraine’s wheat exports, and a quarter of the EU’s other grain exports, it says.

Frank Mechielsen, the director of Feedback EU, which produced the study, said: “At a time of high food prices and a cost of living crisis, it’s a scandal that the EU is potentially throwing away more food than it’s importing. The EU now has a massive opportunity to set legally binding targets to halve its food waste from farm to fork by 2030 to tackle climate change and improve food security.”

Global food prices last month were 8% higher than a year ago, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), partly driven by the war in Ukraine.

Wheat, maize and soya bean prices have this year even overshot records set at the height of the 2008 world financial crisis.

Abdolreza Abbassian, a grain market analyst and former senior FAO economist, said the era of cheap food was over and prices would probably remain high, even after the Russia-Ukraine war has ended.

“Because of the energy situation, the fertiliser situation, uncertainties in the world, including in transport and shipments, not to mention climate change we have to accept that we are not going to see food prices at the levels of a decade ago, that we had become used to,” he said.

Olivier De Schutter, a co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, and a UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said the problem was that the agrifood industry had historically found waste more advantageous than efficiency.

“At both ends of the food chain it’s expensive to reduce waste and it is profitable to sell people more food than they need,” he said. “Sell-by dates are also set in a way that obliges people to buy more than they can actually consume.”

Brussels is expected to bring forward a proposal later this year for the world’s first legally enforceable goals to curb food waste – 43 green non-profits have backed Feedback EU’s call for a 50% drop in waste by 2030.

Piotr Barczak, the senior policy officer for the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said: “All EU countries had committed to halve food waste within the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. However, almost 10 years later, they have not achieved much, and our economies still generate incredibly high amounts of food waste.”

The EEB wants to see legal measures for cutting waste along the whole food supply chain, including production, processing and food services.

No official EU baseline data for on-farm food waste in 2020 has yet been published but the new study used calculations from the UN Environment Programme’s food waste index and a WWF meta-study, both from 2021.

The report sources about 90m tonnes of food waste to primary production – three times more than household waste. Most of this is probably unrecorded, as EU waste measurements tend to exclude food left unharvested, unused or unsold on farms.

An estimated 20% of EU food production is wasted each year, at a cost to EU businesses and households of €143bn (£125bn) a year. Food waste is responsible for at least 6% of the bloc’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

A separate study published on Monday in Nature Food found that wheat and maize trading would only partly alleviate global food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine, and even then, at the cost of spurring carbon emissions.

The paper projects a probable increase in maize and wheat prices of 4.6% and 7.2% respectively over the coming year.


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