The European Union has been told it could reduce its emission footprint if it severely reduces the level of food waste.
New research has found countries across Europe have a significant potential for reducing the demand for global food resources and the associated GHG footprint. Researchers have estimated the climate footprint savings that may be obtained from reducing food loss and waste along Europe’s food supply chain by 50% by 2030.
The study shows that European food consumption draws unnecessarily excessively on global resources, which is why researchers are calling for political action. Many of the foods that are consumed in Europe are produced in countries outside Europe. Food loss, and waste later in the chain, occurs along the food supply chain, from the primary agricultural sector in Europe or rest of the world, until it feeds mouths in Europe.
“Halving Europe’s food loss and waste, together with a redistribution of global food resources, could solve the challenges of food shortages in the world,” says Marianne Thomsen, research leader and professor of sustainable food systems at the Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH FOOD).
The researchers’ scenario calculations show what will happen if Europe halves the food loss and waste along the food supply chains associated with Europe’s food consumption. Halving food loss and waste in Europe’s food supply chains equates to saving 8 % of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by food consumption in Europe, along with an associated saving of 6 % of agricultural areas and 6 % of grazing areas, overall equalling 12 % of agricultural areas, as grazing areas are used for livestock. In addition, there is a saving of 7 % of water consumption, and 14 % of energy embodied in the food production for the citizens of Europe.
Thomsen points towards monitoring and reporting of food loss and waste by all actors along the food supply chain as an important policy instrument.
“Such a policy instrument may, supported by other types of policy instruments, be a strong incentive for companies and the rest of society to invest time and money in new technology and collaboration to prevent food loss and waste by closing the loop along the food supply chains within local circular food systems,” she explained.
“The companies can collaborate on sustainable innovation in circular symbioses where side streams are utilized for producing upcycled ingredients and products. As another example, the service industry can apply upcycled ingredients produced from surplus food in the wholesale sector, while at the same time nudge costumers to take smaller portions by reducing the plate size,” Thomsen added.
National greenhouse gas emission inventories are based on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by individual countries from the food production that occurs within their own geographical borders. The new calculations apply a consumption-based accounting approach. This includes the climate footprint from locally produced and imported food in European countries, while excluding domestically produced foods exported to other countries. In the scenario calculations, the researchers have assumed that the reduction in food loss and waste occurs through prevention, generating a reduction in food production and supply to satisfy European food consumption.
“There is a need to invest in reducing food loss and waste associated with European food consumption at all stages of the food supply chain from farm to fork,” said Thomsen. “Cutting food loss and waste caused by Europe’s food consumption by 50 % requires political intervention, and also that policy interventions are adapted to national circumstances and specific regional and local challenges.”