Food waste 'unacceptable' in this day and age, says MEP
Angélique Delahaye talks to the Parliament Magazine about her landmark food waste amendment and why there is real added value in taking a European approach to tackle the issue.
Although Angélique Delahaye has not been an MEP for long - she was elected in May 2014 - she is already making waves. She has already authored a landmark amendment on food waste that was approved in plenary last July. Forming part of the wider circular economy package - which will no doubt keep both Parliament and Commission busy this year - the amendment seeks to make it mandatory for supermarkets across Europe to donate any unsold food to charity.
The French deputy feels strongly that, "in this day and age, it's unacceptable for producers - for whatever reason - to end up disposing of consumables while some people in Europe are unable to remain adequately nourished."
She explains that her fight against food waste started in 2011, during the E.coli crisis that caused the deaths of more than 50 people, mainly in Germany. As a result of the outbreak, many fruit and vegetable producers were forced to throw away any goods that may have been contaminated. Delahaye, who runs her own agricultural company, was one of these producers. She claims that; "None of the produce was contaminated, but for one month, we were made to throw it out daily. I told myself that such a situation was unacceptable, and that it should never happen again."
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Working on the topic made the EPP group member realise that, "unfortunately, food waste does not only occur during the production stage. It can happen at any point throughout the supply chain, including when food has reached a person's refrigerator."
Re-use and recycling are at the heart of the circular economy, something, Delahaye says, she has been used to doing her whole life. "I was raised by a grandmother who lived through the war and was used to scarcity. She never threw anything out - everything could be recovered and turned into something else."
The lessons she learnt back then are harder for today's youth - including her own children - to fully grasp, she believes. "Back then," she explains, "we didn't have 50 different TV channels, there weren't ten different supermarkets within walking distance and food represented a much larger proportion of households' budgets. This is no longer the case."
She adds that; "New measures were introduced to lower production costs, and farmers are constantly pushed to keep prices as low as possible. However, as a result, food is now so cheap that it is much easier for people to throw it away. No one attaches any real value to it."
Delahaye practices what she preaches; she remembers that; "During the 2011 E.coli crisis, I handed out my company's produce to people living in Tours, a city in France. I tried to make them understand that when masses of people reject a certain type of product, it can cause huge losses for farmers. This doesn't necessarily occur to them when they are shopping." The Lyon native also donated vegetables to local breeders that were able to feed their boars for a month. Even today, anything her company is unable to sell is donated to charity. The MEP is also President of Solaal, an organisation that helps put farmers and food retailers in touch with relevant charities.
In December last year, France passed a law forcing supermarkets to donate unsold food to charities. This was not something all of them welcomed, citing logistical difficulties. Angélique Delahaye explains that she has dealt with the industry, "for 25 years, on a number of subjects, and these are people who do not like rules. They want liberalism, and in their eyes any new rule is a barrier to entrepreneurial freedom. I fully support freedom of enterprise, but within a certain framework - there needs to be a level playing field."
She also highlights that some shops will go so far as to, "pour bleach over their waste bins so that no one can take what is inside," something she witnessed while working on a 2012 documentary for French television. She explains that some retailers may be reticent to donate unsold goods, "because it requires a certain amount of effort. Employees need to be available to sort through the goods, which incurs additional costs. It's understandable for lower income companies to want to avoid this, less so for ones with larger profit margins."
However, Delahaye does stress that; "The idea is not to single out and stigmatise a single actor in the food chain. Supermarkets are at the end of the food chain; they don't always have an option other than throwing out unsold goods, whereas farmers for example, can turn unsold vegetables into fertilizer."
The MEP is aware of the challenges ahead, given that each country, "has a different perspective on things; food distribution varies across Europe." One important issue that of who is held accountable if there is something wrong with the food that is handed out; this can also vary from country to country.
Yet Delahaye insists that, "this is a cross-cutting issue that goes beyond political differences. We will have to be very smart and pragmatic in our work, because if we set up new rules without the proper tools to implement them, they will be useless."
She believes there is real value in taking a European approach to the subject, "so that we can learn from each other and find common ground for a real strategy against food waste. This should be a core element of our inevitable transition to the circular economy."
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