* European Commission working on food waste policy document
* Agriculture ministers to debate issue on Monday
By Barbara Lewis
ATHENS, May 16 "Best before" dates on food add
to a mountain of waste in Europe and could be scrapped for some
long-life produce, a group of European Union states have argued
in a discussion paper prepared for an agriculture ministers
meeting on Monday.
Food waste in the West has become a hot topic because of its
environmental and humanitarian implications. A report last year
found up to half of the food produced worldwide was wasted
because of poor harvesting, storage and transport methods, as
well as irresponsible retailer and consumer behaviour.
The discussion paper, seen by Reuters and put forward by the
Netherlands and Sweden, says date-labelling in many EU countries
is adding to the problem and calls on the European Commission to
consider whether products with a very long shelf life could be
exempt from best before labels.
It also wants EU policymakers to explore how to make
consumers better understand durability dates.
The paper, which also has the backing of Austria, Denmark,
Germany and Luxembourg, says food waste has a social,
environmental and economic dimension. "The need to reduce food
losses and food waste is also closely linked to the principle
that everyone in the world has a right to adequate food," it
According to figures from the Commission, up to 100 million
tonnes of food are wasted in Europe each year, while last year's
report from the London-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers
found that between 30 percent and 50 percent of the food which
gets to supermarket shelves is wasted - often because of poor
understanding of best before and use by dates.
A use by date is applied if there is a health risk in eating
food after that date, whereas a best before date is more about
quality - when it expires it does not necessarily mean food is
harmful, but it may lose flavour and texture.
The Commission says it is looking at solutions to food
waste, including how to end the confusion over date labelling,
and will issue a policy paper on the issue later this year.
(Editing by David Holmes)