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Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour to join you for today’s award ceremony and I want to apologise for being obliged to leave immediately after my speech in order to catch a complicated plane connection to Stockholm.
What better place to celebrate our food heroes than Rennes, the capital of Brittany.
This region has many claims to fame to support this event:
- It is France’s first agricultural region, with an important and thriving food manufacturing industry.
- It is home to one of France’s top universities, known for its academic excellence and research.
- It is one of the leading digital innovation centres in France.
- Over two thousand years ago, it was home to two legendary French superheroes known for their quick wit, fearlessness, and fondness for fine food – Asterix and Obelix.
Like our heroes today, Asterix and Obelix devised intelligent, creative solutions to overcome their challenges.
But unlike us, they had a magic potion to give them superhuman strength when the task became too big.
There is no doubt we could do with some of this magic now.
Food waste is a massive problem – at all stages of the supply and distribution chain.
In the EU alone, we waste around 88 million tonnes of food every year – one fifth of all the food we produce.
It costs us a frightening amount of money.
Last year, in Europe, it cost an estimated EUR 143 billion.
That is more than three times the annual GDP of my home country, Lithuania.
It is clear there are fundamental problems with the current system.
We need to redesign existing food chains, think of new ways to reduce loss and maximise the value of food we produce.
We need people like you to come up with creative solutions.
This event shows it is possible and I warmly congratulate all the projects submitted.
Let me add here that it’s not just countries that stand to gain from strategies to reduce food waste.
It’s businesses too - case studies show that for every dollar they invest in food waste prevention – making it part of their business model, they can save fourteen dollars in operating costs.
It’s win-win for everyone.
Let me say a few words on the steps the European Commission has taken in the last few years.
First, on the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan.
This Plan was launched three years ago.
It contained 54 actions to improve resource efficiency, four of which targeted food waste.
I am pleased that a report published on 4th March found all actions have been completed or are ongoing.
The four actions on food waste have enabled us to take important steps forward in this area – especially in terms of monitoring and measuring waste levels.
In May 2018, the EU revised its waste legislation.
It marked an important milestone for food waste.
For the first time, it introduced specific measures to prevent and reduce food waste as part of EU policy.
It means EU countries must prepare and publish food waste prevention programmes, addressing the whole supply chain.
They must monitor and report on food waste levels.
Together with Member States we have developed a common methodology to measure food waste in the EU.
Last week, we put this into public consultation, giving citizens and stakeholders the chance to have their say.
It is open for a month and I encourage you to give your feedback.
The new measurement obligations will generate consistent data on food waste levels throughout the EU.
Reporting will begin in 2022.
Member States can use this information to develop more effective food waste strategies.
We can use it to measure the EU's progress towards broader objectives, such as the global Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 12.3.
Let me remind you how ambitious this goal is.
By 2030, we need to halve food waste at retail and consumer levels, and reduce food losses across the supply chain.
While this is our overall goal, it is not yet a legally binding target.
Using the new Member State data, the Commission will consider if it is feasible to establish legally binding EU wide food waste reduction targets, to be met by 2030.
A second key achievement is the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste, set up in 2016.
This unique forum – and its four sub-groups - brings together key actors from the public and private sectors, from all stages of the food chain.
It helps mobilise concrete action on the ground, EU wide cooperation and monitor progress.
Members are eager to share experience and business cases, reproduce successful models and consider scaling-up initiatives to reduce food waste.
We have also taken steps to make food donation easier.
Surplus food that is safe should - as a priority - be available to people in need.
Currently it is often easier to waste food than give it away.
This is unacceptable.
New guidelines clarify how EU rules apply to food donation for donors and receivers.
They promote a common understanding by regulatory authorities to facilitate food donation.
Last April, the Commission adopted EU guidelines on using "former foodstuffs" as animal feed - products such as unsold bread or broken biscuits which are safe but no longer marketed for human consumption.
We want to promote the re-use of these resources to avoid and reduce waste.
Date marking is another important tool targeted in the Circular Economy Action Plan.
"Best before" and "use by" dates guide consumers' choice and use of foods.
They are a crucial part of supply chain management.
The Commission has been examining ways to improve understanding and use of date marking in the food chain.
A sub-group of the EU Platform has been developing scientific and technical guidance to support consistent date marking practices at EU level.
Finally, we have been building our digital presence – developing online tools and networks to promote cooperation and joint action on food waste.
They help us to learn from projects and initiatives, share information and results quickly.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To conclude, reducing food waste is a critical challenge in the 21st Century.
It is not ok that we lose one fifth of all the food we produce when one in ten EU citizens cannot afford a quality meal every second day.
It is not ok that food waste is the third biggest carbon emitter globally.
It is not ok that we are throwing away the equivalent of a developed country’s GDP each year.
Reducing food waste is essential – for society, the economy and the environment.
We don’t have magic potions or the superhuman strength of Asterix and Obelix.
But thanks to you – our food heroes - we are rich in new ideas and fresh concepts to inspire change.
It is high time to act, to work together, to stop throwing away perfectly edible food.
We need to “re-burger” our burgers, form new partnerships, embrace wonkiness, the male of the species and – I’m happy to say - small mussels!