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18 December 2014

Food Waste, an issue of today?

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Interview with Jindrich Fialka



Is there any definition of what food waste is?

According to FAO studies and according to general perception, food losses are defined as „the decrease in quantity or quality of food“ and are the agricultural or fisheries products intended for human consumption that are ultimately not eaten by people or that have incurred a reduction in quality reflected in their nutritional value, economic value or food safety. Food waste is an important part of food losses, which refers to the discarding or alternative (non – food) use of food that was fit for human consumption – by choice or after the food has been left to spoil or expire as a result of negligence. The EU waste directive 2008/98/EC, for example, defines waste as „any substance or object which the holder discars or intends or is required to discard“. It is not surprising, that current definitions are under permanent discusion. Until recently there was little consensus on whether inedible parts of foodstufs should be considered as losses or waste. This issue is particularly relevant when assessing potentially edible parts of animals that are currently in many societies used for non-edible purposes. The issue also has a cultural aspect, in that what is considered inedible in one society may be eaten in another. While the majority of studies consider food grade products and commodities, which have the potential of being eaten by humans but that are used for animal feed, as waste, another studies don´t. While discussion is still ongoing, following the Codex Alimentarius food is defined as any substance, whether processed, semi-processed or raw, which is intended for human consumption, and includes drink and any substance which has been used in the manufacture, preparation or treatment of food (excluding cosmetics or tobacco or substances used only as drugs).

What are the main causes of food waste/food losses?

There are many causes of food waste in the entire food chain. Starting from the final stage, which means consumer level or rather households in general, the main problems stay with our behavior as consumers. We can see 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 etc. On the other hand, other stakeholders in the food chain, which should be called food business operators by definition, don´t make our consumers life easier. It relates to portion sizes in connection with various marketing strategies (i.e. buy 1 get 1 free), inadequate packaging (too large packaging not intended for immediate consumption) difficulty to anticipate the number of clients in catering etc. At the same time we can see stock management inefficiencies, aesthetic issues or product and packaging damage in retail, phenomenon of overproduction by farmers and food manufacturing or failure in use of good agricultural practices. Consequently, we can´t forget to mention different legislative framework around the world, not going to far from the EU, we can remember marketing standards for different kinds of fruit and vegetables. We can summarize, there are two major approaches of perception, depending to whether losses and waste result from either market or policy failure.

Are there any solutions how to minimize food waste/food losses globally?

We can see many kinds of possible solution on the global level, however the key issue is to change our own behavior and doesn´t matter, on which part of the food chain we stay. I see huge potential in practical implementation od FAO Conclusions on Food Losses from May 2011, which defined four pillars for global initiative. Awareness raising on the impact of, and solutions for food loss and waste should be more promoted. At the same time, collaboration and coordination of world-wide initiatives on food loss and waste reduction is needed, to minimize duplication of work and to avoid ineffective use of sources. Policy, strategy and programme development for food losses and waste reduction should be supported by investment programmes and projects, implemented by private and public sectors.

In your presentation at the conference CSR in action 2014, you mentioned that developing countries play an important role in food waste? Can you please summarize why?

There are several aspects, why tackling the issue in developing countries becomes globally important. Given that many smallholder producers live on the margins of food insecurity, a reduction in food losses could have an immediate and significant impact on their livelihood. This is particularly relevant for smallholder farmers who experience limited access to relevant agricultural inputs and technologies, extension services and information, infrastructure, storage facilities and markets. There is practically impossible for them to benefit from financial loans due to relatively high interest rates in respective regions. On the other hand, some countries namely in Africa apply the instrument of export duties for several commodities, as the income of public finance, which is source for another sectors such as healthcare. There should be reinforced the role of the World Bank and the role of Common Fund for Commodities via pilot projects supporting good agriculture practices and sustainable production. For example, in Africa more than 70% of food wastage happens in the phase of agricultural production and postharvest handling and treatment, in Latin America this part of food chain contributes to food wastage from 63%. At the same time more than 850 million people face hunger every day.

Is food waste a global issue? What is the approach of the European Union towards it?

Over 100 million tons of food is wasted annually in Europe (2014 estimate, in which agricultural food waste and fish discards is not included). About a third of the food for human consumption is wasted globally - around 1.3 billion tons per year, according to FAO. Food waste in industrialized countries is as high as in developing countries. In developing countries, over 40% of food losses happen after harvest and during processing. In industrialized countries, over 40% occurs at retail and consumer level. Food is wasted throughout the whole food chain from farmers to consumers and for various reasons. It is evidence based, that food waste is a global issue which should be solved not only in economic terms, but also in environmental and social terms. European Parliament passed a resolution in January 2012 on food waste avoidance and asked relevant institutions to take action. In this regard the European Commission was asked to take practical measures towards halving food waste by 2025. In practical terms, the European Commission specifies concrete food waste prevention targets for Member States, as part of the waste prevention targets to be reached by Member States by 2014, as recommended by the 2008 Waste Framework Directive. There has been introduced the Roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe, European Commission published 10 tips to reduce food waste, the clarification of "best before” and “use by” labels has been developed to consumers. At the same time the process of development good practices in this area is currently taking place, new legislation on food information provided to consumers comes into force by the end of this year.

How is the Czech Republic dealing with food waste in comparison with rest of the world?

The situation in the Czech Republic is very similar in comparison with other EU member states. The key priority is the elimination of food waste as such (via prevention of food losses in the entire food chain). There are several kinds of action, which are taking place, such as awareness raising (education, promotion of activities), coordination of activities at national level (institutions, NGO´s, private initiatives) and policy development (including legislation, VAT on foodstuffs, donation activities, etc.). Since 1994 there operates Czech Federation of Food Banks, many NGO´s and civil societies are playing very active role in this area. Ministry of Agriculture coordinates respective activities accross institutions in close cooperation with relevant stakeholders throuhgout the entire food chain. However the most important think to tackle issue of food waste is the positive perception by our society.

Can the retailer here sell a product with damaged packaging?

The question is to which level the packaging is damaged or rather what do we understand under the term damaged. Food business operator ensures that the foodstuffs are safe and the requirements on food labelling are met. For example, foodstuffs with mechanically proliferated packaging during handling can´t be placed on the market, as the food safety aspect can´t be ensured to consumers (due to risk of contamination).

In the presentation you mentioned the new directive that would soon enter into force that manufacturers and restaurant operators are obliged to include all the nutritional values and allergens on the product label / in the menu. How will it work in practice?

Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food information to consumers lays down requirements for the nutrition declaration, which concerns information on the presence of energy and certain nutrients in foods. The mandatory provision of nutrition information on packaging should assist nutrition actions as part of public health policies which could involve the provision of scientific recommendations for nutrition education for the public and support informed food choices. At the same time it is important that information on the presence of food additives, processing aids and other substances or products with a scientifically proven allergenic or intolerance effect should be given to enable consumers, particularly those suffering from a food allergy or intolerance, to make informed choices which are safe for them. The presence of such allergens shall be indicated to consumers in restaurants as well. In general, all food information help consumers to make right choice and reduce possible source of food waste in households.

Is it true that there will be some changes according calculation of VAT on donated food?

Good news is, that the real problem is not VAT as such, the key issue is reduced nominal value of the food, which is provided from retailers or from producers to civil societies. This means there is actually no need for legislative changes on VAT rules at national level, as the justification of reduced nominal value stands with food business operators. Ministry of Finance prepares respective guidelines, which will reflect concrete situation and conditions, according to which would it be possible to decrease nominal value of provided food (for example character of the food, retaining expected quality parameters according to “best before” date or “use by” date, etc.).

And my last question is.. What can each of us do to avoid food waste?

All consumers can start with planning of shopping, according to menu plan for a week. We can check the ingredients in our fridge and cupboards, then write a shopping list for just the extras we need. Let´s buy loose fruits and vegetables instead of pre-packed so we can buy exactly the amount we need. We have to check the dates of durability of foodstuffs. If we are not planning to eat a certain item with a short “use by” date, let´s look for one with a longer “use by” date or just plan to buy it on the day we require. Food should be stored in accordance with the instructions on the packaging. When we buy new food from the store, let´s bring all the older items in our cupboards and fridge to the front to reduce the risk of finding something mouldy in our food storage compartments. We should try to serve small amounts of food with the understanding that everybody can come back for more once they’ve cleared their plate. If we only eat a small amount of bread, then we freeze it, then take out a few slices a couple of hours before we need them. Of course, we can´t avoid to food waste from 100%, so we can set up a small compost and recycle the final product in the garden. There are many recommendations in this area, however the key issue is to change our behavior.

Thank you for all the facts and valuable tips!

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