November 20 2020

Food waste and food loss: current legislation and best practices

Marco Imperiale

Managing circular economy has become an unprecedented challenge for both communities and policymakers, and in some countries, food waste legislation still struggles to be enforced. Although international organisations have passed provisions to design a no-waste global system, the real awareness of the problem seems to be a long way off. Furthermore, the recent sanitary emergency is undermining the attempt to keep global food supply chains alive. Mitigating the impact of the pandemic across the food system requires great effort and targeted regulations.

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What are food loss and food waste? Is there a difference between the two?
Food loss happens when edible food gets spilt, spoilt or otherwise lost, or simply its quantity decreases throughout the processing in the food supply chain. Basically, it occurs from post-harvest up to the retail level. Food waste, instead, happens at the end of the supply chain during retail or final consumption; when food, as a final product, is not consumed, and it gets discarded and thrown away.

Sustainable material management can no longer be deferred in order to protect the quality of the environment. Food business operators (FBOs) are asking for clear regulations to define the roles and responsibilities of all the actors involved, set waste management targets and ensure equal access to tax incentives

How is food waste dealt with internationally?
As regulations are in progress and come in great number, food law professionals are constantly involved in advising FBOs to keep up with international food waste legislation. EU 2008 Waste Framework Directive establishes a clear waste hierarchy, which is still valid, regarding waste prevention and management. Prevention, preparation for re-use, recycling/recovery and disposal are the hubs of the no-waste ladder.

If we refer to the UN 2030 Agenda, target no. 12.3, entitled “Responsible Consumption and Production”, forces us to halve, by 2030, food waste, and to reduce food loss along the production and supply chains. A specialized UN agency, FAO, which has long experience in working with development actors and has unique expertise in sustainable development, can assist countries in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. I also underline that the Nobel Peace Prize for the World Food Program, which has a huge political and symbolic value.

Coming back to the European Union, I believe that there are great opportunities to improve resource efficiency and create a more circular economy, for example intervening on the large differences among its member states. Or addressing the use of secondary raw materials. I stress that some member States are already behaving virtuously. For example, France reached leadership on food waste thanks to a holistic approach, based on the combination of a ministerial program and new commercial practices aimed at limiting food waste.

Is Italy in line with the other countries?
Law nr. 166/2016 defines food waste and loss, as well as the producer’s responsibility. Regions can also intervene with rules to promote responsible behaviour and virtuous practices to reduce food waste. The “Tavolo permanente di coordinamento” – a public agency - makes proposals for the definition of specific incentives for those involved in the donation, recovery and distribution of food and the donation of money, goods and services. Finally, we have regulations for food transfer methods, shelf life and storage conditions. That said, targeted provisions about waste hierarchy and virtuous practices are still missing.

How is Covid-19 pandemic connected to food loss and food waste?
Many countries have been facing food surplus due to food habit changes. However, only a few governments have implemented sustainability practices and food management, like autonomous Catalonia in Spain - which has reacted to Coronavirus challenge by approving a law aiming to reduce food waste throughout the entire value chain, from the primary sector to the final consumer.

I believe that in the medium to long term, as unemployment rates grow worldwide and household income is decreasing, citizens will prioritise their food spending and consider food sources more carefully.

I would close the interview highlighting that the rise of digital technology has boosted the number of web platforms, food banks and food sharing apps, therefore we see more concern about food surplus among communities. If revolution has to happen bottom-up, I hope it is the first step for positive behaviours in the days to come.

Article author:
Marco Imperiale

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