Could less food waste reduce food prices and GHG emissions?

Latest research from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre estimates the potential impact of decreasing food waste in the EU

Back in 2020, nearly 59 million tonnes of food went to waste in the European Union (EU), equating to 10% of all food supplied to restaurants, food services, retail, and households. Coupling this with added research from scientists that 16% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from the EU food system, the Commission is proposing to set food waste reduction targets to be achieved by the Member States by 2030.

Expanding on the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 12.3 

Expanding on the UN’s SDG Target 12.3 calling for retailers and consumers to half per capita global food waste and reduce food losses along the production and supply chains, the European Commission is proposing targets to reduce food waste. 

Analysing the potential economic, social, and environmental impacts of cutting EU food waste by 2030 with the global economy-wide model - MAGNET - the Commission highlighted environmental benefits linked to food waste reduction. 

Three reduction scenarios were calculated with decreases of 12%, 23%, and 41% in EU food waste and involving different levels of food waste cuts across the supply chain. Results showed that such reductions could save US$239-782 on average every year, seeing a 6% decrease in the share of food expenditure within households.

Cutting costs for consumers, the report highlighted that the price of vegetables could decrease by up to 4% and 2% for fruit. It is also estimated that GHG emissions could be reduced by 108 million tonnes, depending on the scenario considered.

Finally, the report indicates that if demand for food decreases in the EU more quickly than in other regions - due to less food waste - the model shows that EU food exports would become more competitive worldwide balancing out the negative impacts of lower domestic demand.

Addressing the consumption food waste

Within the report, the Commission found that households are responsible for 53% of food waste in the EU totalling more than 31 million tonnes in 2020. Coming second was the processing and manufacturing sector (20%), followed by the primary production sector (10%), restaurant and food services (9%), and retail and other distribution of food sectors (7%).

Diving into what makes up this waste, the Commission found that fruits and vegetables are the largest proportion (27% and 20% respectively), cereals account for 13%, and potatoes 10%.

Responding to this information, the Commission is coordinating a pilot project financed by the European Parliament, known as the European Consumer Food Waste Forum. The forum offers a collection of best practices and tools to help policymakers and practitioners to decrease food waste at consumption.

Building on the Farm to Fork Strategy 

Designed to reduce the environmental and climate footprint of the EU food system and facilitate the shift to healthy and sustainable diets, the Farm to Fork Strategy was established to highlight the importance of tackling food loss and waste.

Now, to accelerate the progress towards this goal, the Commission is promising to set food waste reduction targets to be achieved by 2030:

  • 10% in processing and manufacturing
  • 30% at retail and consumption

“By setting such targets, the Commission aims to ensure that Member States take action at the sufficient pace and scale required to make a solid contribution to SDG Target 12.3,” commented the European Commission.

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