foodwasteToday marks World Food Day – an occasion to remind ourselves that around a third of food is wasted globally. This amounts to 1.3 billion tons per year according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. About 90 million tonnes of food is wasted annually in Europe – agricultural food waste and fish discards not included.

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment, said: “When 870 million people go hungry every day, there can be no excuse for wasting one third of the world’s food. The EU has set itself an ambitious target, and is aiming to halve edible food waste by 2020. We are working on the sustainability of the food system as a whole, and looking to tackle resource inefficiencies across the food chain, starting with food waste. I hope this will ultimately help the world’s food system to become more resilient.

Tonio Borg, European Commissioner for Health said: “It is vital to work with all actors involved in the food supply chain – from farm to fork – if we are to be resource efficient and tackle avoidable food waste without compromising on safety.” Commissioner Borg added: “I welcome the recent move by Belgium to abolish the VAT on food donated to food banks. This will increase the donation of food to food banks instead of wasting food close to its “best before/use by” date. A win-win situation for both: retailers and food banks. I would encourage other Member States to look into this issue.”

Food is wasted along the entire food chain by farmers, food industry, retailers, caterers and consumers. The reasons are diverse and sector specific. The main causes are:

  • Lack of awareness, lack of shopping planning, confusion about “best before” and” use by” date labels, lack of knowledge on how to cook with leftovers (households);
  • Standard portion sizes, difficulty to anticipate the number of clients (catering);
  • Stock management inefficiencies, marketing strategies that can lead to unnecessary purchases (2 for 1, buy 1 get 1 free) (retail);
  • Overproduction, product & packaging damage (farmers and food manufacturing);
  • Inadequate storage (whole food chain); and
  • Inadequate packaging.

EU Actions

The Roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe identified food as a key sector where resource efficiency should be improved. It announced that it will further assess how best to limit food waste throughout the food supply chain and that it will seek incentives to halve the disposal of edible food waste in the EU by 2020.

The Commission is analysing in close cooperation with stakeholders, experts and EU Member States how to reduce food waste without compromising food safety and is discussing options for EU actions. The Working Group on Food Waste is developing good practices, obstacles and options for EU actions to reduce food waste. A wide number of topics are addressed such as: donation of surplus food to food banks, date labelling, feed, short food supply chains, bio-energy, etc.

The Commission has also launched an awareness raising information campaign which includes: a viral clip on food waste, “10 tips to reduce food waste” in all EU languages, and a clarification of “best before” and “use by” labels in all EU languages.

Good practices are also being compiled by the Commission on food waste reduction initiatives.

Next Steps

Following up on the Resource Efficiency roadmap and the public consultation on sustainable food, the Commission services are currently examining how the concept of resource efficiency can be better applied to the production and consumption of food, with a focus on avoiding food waste. The Commission plans to come forward with an initiative in this area in the coming months.


Food waste in industrialised countries is as high as in developing countries: over 40% of food losses occur at retail and consumer level in industrialised countries and over 40% occurs after harvest and during processing in developing countries.

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