Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Farmers urged to join battle on food waste

Food is kept on supermarket shelves for way too long
Food is kept on supermarket shelves for way too long

Farmers and processors are being urged to help curb food waste in the EU.

Each year, 88 million tonnes of food are thrown away in the bloc's 28 member countries - 20pc of all food produced in the EU - at a cost of €143bn.

Households are the biggest culprits, jettisoning 47m tonnes a year.

But processing comes a close second, binning a yearly 17m tonnes.

Farmers were responsible for around nine million tonnes (10pc) of all food wasted in the EU in 2015.

The bloc's health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, made an emotive plea this week to drum up support for his cause.

A trained doctor, Mr Andriukaitis was born in a Russian Gulag, where he and his family survived on very little.

Holding up a 1kg bag of potatoes from a Belgian supermarket chain, the former Lithuanian health minister said it would have kept his family of five alive for at least four days.

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"I can't imagine that today we could waste such an amount of potatoes," he told reporters this week, calling the practice "unethical and immoral".

He believes waste is inextricably linked to the way food is produced and preserved, with long production chains keeping food on supermarket shelves for way too long.

"We need to reduce the food production chain and bring as fresh as possible food to consumers," he said.

The issue also ties in with his personal drive to cut the levels of trans-fats, sugars and salt in food.

The UN's sustainable development goals - to which all EU countries have signed up - aim to halve food waste by 2030.

But there are no binding EU targets on waste.

Instead, Mr Andriukaitis has asked a coalition of NGOs and industry groups for advice on how to tackle the problem.

A 2002 EU law says that only "safe" food can be placed on the market, meaning food banks and other charities must comply with complex health and safety requirements on donated food.

These rules could be eased, he says.

He also wants to relax the rules on "former foodstuffs", such as unsold bread or broken biscuits, so it can be used in animal feed.

And he is considering a change to the 'best before' and 'use by' date stamps on foods, which prompt consumers to bin non-perishable items like vinegar, salt or sugar.

Nature conservation payments have ‘little or no effect’

A report by environmental campaigners has outlined EU payments for nature conservation are having no effect.

Since 2013, 5pc of total arable land has to be ring-fenced for environmental protection under the Common Agricultural Policy. These “ecological focus areas” determine whether or not a farmer receives “green” subsidies, which now make up 30pc of CAP direct payments.

However, research by the Institute for European Environmental Policy shows that 75pc of land set aside as EFAs contains plant life that will have little or no effect on promoting biodiversity.

They say governments are allowing farmers to count commercial crops with no environmental benefits towards their EFA commitments.

Moreover, 18 countries — including Ireland — are still opposing a proposed ban on the use of pesticides on EFAs.

The European Commission will decide in the next few weeks on whether to go ahead with the ban.

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