A Nation of Gastronomes Declares War on Food Waste

oconnorBy Clementine O’Connor, sustainable food lead at BIO Intelligence Service
Author of the EU preparatory study on food waste and communications manager for the EU food waste dialogue FUSIONS

In the European Union, we waste an estimated 89 million tonnes of food each year, after the farm gate, or around 180kg per person, according to the first pan-European study we prepared in 2010. As you know from following this blog, this wastage impacts not only water resources, biodiversity and climate change, but also undermines global food security and eats into your own disposable income, to the tune of some 600€ each year.

While over a third of food is currently wasted, this is forecast to rise by 40% in 2020, based on increases in population and affluence in the EU, without purposeful action to counteract this trend. Since the publication of our 2010 EU study and the FAO study in 2011, accompanied by the relentless efforts of UK organisation WRAP and their Love Food Hate Waste campaign, a call to arms has been felt across the EU, and European countries are standing up to the challenge.

From my base here in Paris, this rapid and dramatic engagement has been palpable.  France, a nation with a deep respect for food and culinary tradition, home to a highly centralized and muscular retail supply chain and dominant global food manufacturers, a place that at once accommodates a non-interventionist natural wine movement and a frozen foods boom in its homes and bistros, a country still toiling under economic crisis. In November 2012 this France, under the leadership of Minister of Agriculture Guillaume Garot, declared war on food waste.

This blog is filled with practical guidance on how to reduce your own food waste - how to organize your fridge, plan your shopping, take advantage of your blender… But how does a country go about preventing food waste? Well, in France the Minister of Agriculture set out a public challenge to manufacturers, retailers, restaurants and cafeterias: let us reduce our food waste - by HALF - by 2025. And then his team connected the actors in this system within 5 specialised groups: each with the burden to make this change happen in their sector.

In April 2013 I found myself at the French Red Cross, presenting the work of the EU food waste dialogue FUSIONS, to a room of retailers including Carrefour, Monoprix, Leclerc, food service providers Sodexo and Compass, food banks and innovative NGOs like Disco Soupe, and several French Ministries. Two big questions were heatedly debated: how do you define food waste - and how do you quantify it? These are starting blocks for effective action.

Other working groups tackled logistical levers, regulatory and contractual barriers, public awareness and business indicators. Over seven months these groups met regularly to define both the commitments that they could bring on behalf of their organizations, and the concrete actions needed to build from these an effective national programme. Mr. Garot listened to the experiences of governments around the world and to the opportunities put forth by these multi-stakeholder groups working together purposefully in France. A plan came together.

On June 14th 2013 Guillaume Garot published the French National Pact against Food Waste. On behalf of the French nation, it commits to a wide basket of measures, including training programmes on food waste in agricultural and hospitality colleges, food waste criteria in public purchasing programmes, a clarification of the legal framework and liabilities for food donation, the full integration of food waste in public waste prevention plans, the evaluation of food waste in corporate social responsibility performance, a clarification of best before date terminology, a public communication campaign on food waste and the testing of a pilot programme allowing individuals to donate excess food using an online tool. 

The pact was signed on June 14th by the directors of 25 leading French food manufacturers, retailers, food service providers and NGOs and is growing rapidly. Each sector of the supply chain made specific commitments, with highlights including:

  • The farming sector developing training programmes to improve fruit and vegetable conservation across the supply chain and to support gleaning operations in the field
  • The manufacturing sector to adapt portion sizes to better meet the needs of smaller households and to put in place educational tools to help consumers reduce their wastage
  • The retail sector committing to improve processes, nominate ambassadors to lead prevention activities and deliver a wide range of good practices, from encouraging consumers to eat wonky produce to offering bulk sales

All sectors unanimously agreed to facilitate and significantly expand food donation. A final hard won victory was achieved as the food service sector committed to the provision of doggy bags – and guidance to help businesses implement this change – a practice that has been widely frowned upon in France, unlike neighbouring countries, up until now.

Where can they take these honourable commitments from here? October 16th is scheduled to be the first French National Day against Food Waste, and the teams brought together in these multi-stakeholder action groups continue to work together to deliver and monitor their activities. Other EU countries are following suit. UNEP is considering how countries like Brazil can tackle their unique food waste challenges. And here in Paris, my neighbours are thinking twice about that pain perdu

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