A Look at Efforts to Reduce Food Loss and Waste in Denmark

Esben Lunde LarsenBy Esben Lunde Larsen, Minister for Environment and Food in Denmark

These remarks were delivered at the Champions 12.3 side event held on May 25, 2016, at the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.

Distinguished ministers, colleagues. Ladies and gentlemen. Today we have heard from a number of influential speakers on how achieving the SDG targets for reduced food loss and waste is intrinsic to the sustainable growth that is so very important for billions of people around the world.

No need to repeat well-known arguments concerning the growing middle class and changes in consumer purchasing power and demand. I think we are all quite aware that in order to satisfy the global demands – not only in years to come, but already today – we will have to make more effective use of our resources.

Therefore, I am also very proud to be part of the Champions 12.3 initiative. And I would like to extend my thanks to the World Resources Institute and the Dutch government for laying its foundation. I think it is very telling that so many decision-makers and key business representatives have chosen to support this initiative, and raise awareness about the SDG target 12.3.

Articulating specific targets in the SDGs is only a first step. A very important first step, though. As first steps usually are. But we have to continue walking. Preferably, we should actually be running by now.

Achieving the SDG target involves all nations. Not just developing countries, but also the industrialized. Though the challenges might be different, we all have a stake in the solutions. So, today I will share with you some Danish experiences.

Denmark is a small country. Yet every year we produce about 700,000 tons of avoidable food waste in Denmark. Food waste goes across the entire food supply chain. Therefore, reducing food waste across the supply chains is a high priority for Denmark.

And let me be clear, the Danish Government believes that the responsibility to meet the SDG on food waste must be shared by all actors throughout the food chain including the private sector, NGOs and organizations.

However, I also believe that a voluntary approach has proven to work well in Denmark. I am happy to see that the private sector has already come a long way.

The Danish food industry is famous for its bacon, butter and biscuits. For years, the Danish food industry has kept its competitive edge by becoming more and more resource efficient. One example is Danish pig production where all parts of the pig are utilized as food, feed or biodiesel. Another example is whey. Whey is the residue after cheese production and contains high protein values. Whey is today turned into infant formula, exported and sold at a premium prize.

There are still a lot of opportunities to pursue. That is why the government has established a National Bioeconomy Panel. The role of the Panel is to advice how food loss can be reduced and converted to resources.

But let me first mention some of the initiatives that have been introduced by the Danish Government as part of the national Waste Prevention Strategy from April 2015. The strategy includes a national target for reducing avoidable food waste in every part of the food value chain.

One of the primary initiatives within the strategy is the establishment of a partnership with actors from all parts of the food value chain – from agriculture to industry, retail, commercial kitchens and consumer organizations, in all 29 partners. The partnership helps us identify barriers in existing regulations and in developing new ideas to reduce food waste.

The strategy also targets food waste in commercial kitchens and cantinas in large institutions where up to 31,000 tons of food is wasted every year. For commercial kitchens, and for canteen kitchens in large institutions, we have launched a task force of consultants called “The Food Waste Hunters.” The “Hunters” assist canteens, hospitals and other commercial kitchens to find and reduce food waste.

As mentioned, we produce about 700,000 tons of avoidable food waste every year. Out of this, almost one-third is from the private household. Almost 100 kilograms of food is wasted in each household every year.

Research shows that date labelling such as “Best before date” is causing unnecessary food waste in households. Legislative measures can be taken, but, in addition, raising awareness is also an important tool to decrease food waste. We have, therefore, launched campaigns informing consumers on food durability and how to better comprehend durability dates on food products.

As I mentioned earlier in my speech, private actors have an essential role to play. Our experience shows that it is possible to make viable business cases of preventing food waste. Preventing waste will have financial benefits for businesses, as they will become more efficient – this goes for food as it does for every other commodity.

I am not an economist, but I dare say this is basic economics. However, I understand that it is easier said than done.

Denmark’s biggest NGO against food waste – the “Stop Wasting Food Movement Denmark” – has worked on inspiring consumers and supermarkets to find innovative solutions to reduce the amount of food that gets thrown out. And it works.

Many companies now understand this. Preventing food waste has become a core strategy among Danish supermarket chains in their competition for market shares and nearly all of them have implemented initiatives to that end.

It has made Denmark one of the countries in the EU with the highest proportion of supermarket chains focusing on food waste in the EU. And Danish supermarkets now sell food products nearing their expiry date with a discount or sell smaller packages designed for singles.

Also, smartphone apps help to facilitate relations between customers and businesses like bakeries and restaurants, that seek to sell their products before closing time.

A very good example of what can be done is the WeFood initiative. WeFood is a supermarket established by the humanitarian NGO Dan-Church-Aid, the non-profit organization called the Food Bank and the retail group, Danish Supermarket. WeFood shows consumers and producers how to get the most out of food that is still good and safe, even though the product may be mislabeled or the packaging has been scratched.

There are already plans underway to open new WeFood shops, so I am happy to see that the business plan holds and that the initiative is a success. And it is important to note, that the food safety regulation is exactly the same for WeFood as for other food companies.

However, WeFood is a good example of an initiative that has only been possible due to changes in regulations on food donations. The Danish Government has changed the national legislation on donations of non-animal food to charity, which previously made it difficult to donate from retailers to charity. We have also changed the taxation on food-donations.

This benefits both social food banks distributing food to vulnerable groups and shops selling food, which for different reasons cannot be sold in normal supermarkets.

In the supermarket, we have become accustomed to expect fruit and vegetables to appear in a certain way; we do not go for the small onions or a beet root that looks like a melon – we want the seemingly flawless. Although they taste just as good, there is not much room for diversity on the supermarket shelves. Hopefully, new supermarkets like WeFood with a focus on the “odd” products can make sure they also find their way to consumers instead of being discarded.

So, what is next?

The SDG targets are universal. So every country should take a stand and spur new action. We must all begin by asking: What can I do in my own country to fulfill these goals? And how can we help other nations in pursuing the agenda?

I think Denmark has come a long way already. But there is still room for improvement. By changing national rules as well as working to change EU-legislation, I aim to pave the way for more companies, organizations and citizens to get the best value out of the good food that is produced.

In Denmark, the Government is right now developing an action plan for our follow up at the national and international levels on all 17 SDGs. All policy areas will be involved. And the priorities will build upon our core experiences within sustainable growth. Food waste and food loss will of course be an important part of this action plan.

In December 2015, the European Commission adopted an ambitious Circular Economy Package which, inter alia, focuses on food waste. The European Commission proposes to establish a common methodology to measure food waste and commit Member States to take measures that reduce food waste in every part of the food value chain. The Commission also proposes to examine ways to improve the use of date marking by actors in the food chain and its understanding by consumers.

And this summer I expect renewed focus on food waste, both among environment ministers and among food ministers within the EU, as the ministers for the environment plan to address resource issues.

I hope and expect that the group of ministers for food will support efforts to reduce food waste in the primary sector and address food security with the purpose to reduce global food loss.

All actions are important for European follow-up on the SDG Goal of reducing food waste.

As you can see, a lot of initiatives are already underway. And more will follow. The political aims are already being put into concrete actions.

This is extremely important, as it shows that it is possible to develop economically viable and sustainable solutions. And I am confident that all of the initiatives being formed around the world will spread and set precedence for the way we think about Food Systems in the future, and impact the choices we make.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, the change has started. We are walking and slowly picking up pace. But it is crucial that we keep pushing. Keep practicing and keep sharing experiences and developing new ideas.

This is why events like today’s are important. It allows us to share ideas and inspire new solutions. I sincerely hope that some of the Danish examples can be of use elsewhere – or at least plant seeds for thoughts.

Thank you very much for your time!