International ‘Towards halving food waste in Europe’ Conference

3rd Jul 24 by Maximilian Herzog

Feedback EU presents call to action to stop biomethane rush that threatens European food waste reduction efforts

Monday, 17th of June, Eindhoven, Netherlands, 17:00 sharp. I enter the bus that will bring us to the venue of the International “Towards Halving Food Waste” Conference. And I know immediately that the next two days will be something very special. 

Why? Because the momentum could not be greater: just earlier that day, EU Ministers had agreed to, for the first time ever, introduce binding food waste reduction targets for the whole European Union – something that we had been heavily pushing for in the last few months as “Prevent Waste Coalition” with Zero Waste Europe, SAFE, EEB, and Too Good To Go. 

And because the whole world seems to sit in this bus. A professor from New Zealand. A doctoral researcher from Australia. A scientist from Greece. A Dutch expert on feed made from food surplus. And of course, Feedback EU is also on board, excited to share our work, make new contacts, get inspired, and develop new ideas for our campaigns on food waste and biomethane.  

Organising such a high-level conference, and giving room to all the different backgrounds and experiences of participants is challenging. And people taking time for more than two days, turning on their “out of office” notifications in their mailbox, and being truly focused, cannot be valued enough.  

But this is what the conference delivered.

Arrival day – Getting to know each other 

If there is one way to get people’s attention and start off a conference, it is a mind-blowing documentary. This was delivered by Kadir van Lohuizen and his World Press Photo winning project ‘Wasteland’ as well as film ‘Food for Thought’ that is currently showing on Dutch television. Whoever still thought that the Netherlands are a small country of tulips and cheese, was proven wrong this evening.  

Only 17 million people, but 11 million pigs, 4 million cows, and 100 million chickens – that is the Netherlands. 80% of Dutch tomatoes are exported. 85% of Dutch cheese is exported. And 84% of Dutch onions are exported – leading to most of the onions sold in Ivory Coast being Dutch. 

At the same time, this happens in a food system that is unjust, unsustainable and highly wasteful. More than 1/3 of all food is wasted. For many, that sounds abstract. In practise, this means that 700.000 loafs of bread are wasted in the Netherlands. Every single day. Worldwide, emissions from food waste are as high as four times the emissions of the aviation sector! 

Day 1Inspiration & Collaboration 

Photo credit: To Huidekoper

Food-feed-fuel competition. Yet another word that doesn’t really capture the absurdity of our current agricultural system. It was therefore high time for our director Frank Mechielsen to take the floor – both in a smaller breakout-session, as well as on the large plenary stage in front of 350 people – to present our work and shed light on the mislead European biomethane policies we are currently up against with our allies: 

Mislead because instead of preventing food “waste” or using food “surplus” at least for animal feed, more and more it ends up in anaerobic digesters to produce biogas, which can then be upgraded to biomethane (and be injected into the gas grid).  

Mislead because biomethane hinders the needed reduction of livestock (with manure getting a price tag for energy production) as well as causes harmful methane emissions (especially due to the additional growing of crops like maize for the biogas plant as well as methane leakage) 

And mislead because all of that comes at a high price, not only for the environment and climate, but also for taxpayer’s money in the form of subsidies.  

At the conference, we therefore had a clear call to action. EU countries need to respect the food use hierarchy and especially increase their efforts to prevent food waste. The EU must finally conduct a thorough scientific impact assessment on current biomethane policies. And until truly sustainable production and use is proven, all biomethane subsidies should be stopped! 

For our presentation and statements, we received a lot of positive feedback. Be it our discussions with the EU Commission, other civil society organisations, feed companies, or scientists – we know the current biomethane surge is wrong and dangerous, but the conference also gave us new momentum to have a more critical debate.
 

Day 2 – Food waste-free field trips 

After an eventful first day, it was time for what would make this conference even more special – practical fieldtrips. Choosing from all the options that the organizing team offered had already been a challenge. But it was worth it.  

Because sometimes you need to see it with your own eyes to fully realize the amounts of food surplus that Europe produces. Visiting companies that produce feed for animals from food surplus delivered just his. Tens of thousands of containers. Filled only with chocolate. Bread. Noodles. Rice. Whole truckloads of carrot pieces, left over as carrots are cut into unnatural round shapes before being sold in supermarkets.  

What became crystal clear is that producing feed from surplus food can only be one part of the solution. We need to produce less food leftovers in the first place. We need to redistribute it to people whenever we can. And yes, we need to reduce livestock production drastically. Becoming more circular, and closing the “loop”, that must also mean that the “loop” becomes smaller in general.  

But one thing is for sure: the bus ride of international experts dedicated to halving food waste by 2030 is going on, and already aiming for its next conference and destination this fall – Budapest! 

Coming back to Brussels and The Hague after two inspiring days, we want to use the opportunity to especially thank:

  • Toine Timmermans, director of Samen Tegen Voedselverspilling;
  • Sanne Stroosnijder, Program manager Food Loss & Waste Prevention at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, business developer at Samen Tegen Voedselverspilling, and wonderful moderator of the Food-feed-fuel session we participated in;
  • Philip den Ouden, chair of Samen Tegen Voedselverspilling, for organising and hosting this great conference!
  • To Huidekoper, thank you also for the great photos! 
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