Millions of tonnes of edible fruit and vegetables are thrown away because of their irregular shape or colour or because of order cancellations. Yet under current proposals they won’t be considered as food waste in the EU.  

For the first time, European countries will be required to report how much food they waste yearly as of 2020. However, the vast majority of food wasted on farms during harvest may be excluded from the measurement under the draft reduction laws.

Farm-level waste accounts for up to 34% of all food waste in the EU – that’s between 10 and 47 million tonnes annually, according to campaign groups Safe Food Advocacy Europe and FeedBack.

Reports show that this is due to reasons beyond farmers’ control such as order cancellations and cosmetic outgrading of produce that’s considered the wrong size, shape or colour.

On the left: some carrots; on the right: some much cooler carrots. Carrots in both images are equally delicious, but those on the right are more likely to be thrown away and yet that may not even be counted as waste.

This translates into a significant economic loss to farmers and a missed opportunity to address the increasing impact that intensive agriculture has on the planet, the NGOs said.

A 60% reduction in food waste by 2030 could save 84.3 million tonnes of carbon emissions every year and reduce Europe’s burden of land-use by an area greater than Croatia, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) estimated in 2015.

The EU has pledged to end food waste as part of its pledge to meet the UN’s sustainable development goals, which demand a reduction in our production and consumption patterns. The bloc has also vowed to slash all types of waste under its newly agreed waste prevention laws.

Campaigners are asking the European Commission to stay true to its commitments and include “harvest food waste” in reporting – food that is mature and ready for harvest but left unharvested and ploughed back in or left to rot in the field.

An consultation launched by the Commission, closing on 4 April, will be the last chance to influence the legislation before it is finalised in the coming months.

In a statement released today, Martin Bowman, a campaigner with the British group Feedback, said:

“Excluding up to 34% of the EU’s food waste from measurement would be a disaster – farmers are currently suffering the costs of food waste being pushed onto them through Unfair Trading Practices, we’re losing millions of tonnes of nutritious food which could be fed to those going hungry in the EU, and we’re wasting land, water and carbon emissions embedded in this food at a time when the global environment is on the brink of catastrophe.”