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Feeding the Future

Why Food Date Labelling Has an Important Role to Play in Cutting Food Waste

Ignacio Gavilan

Environmental Sustainability Director, The Consumer Goods Forum

We have a problem: a full one third of food produced globally goes uneaten, equivalent to a billion tons of food loss annually. Not only does it undermine food security, but waste contributes to climate change and consumes vital natural resources. Food waste is also a notoriously complex subject to approach for governments, NGOs and the private sector due to the difficulties involved in monitoring supply chains and managing the consumption stage, where consumer behavior partly determines environmental impact.

Labels matter

Effective food labelling is crucial to tackle the problem. Systems reliant on multiple dates — such as “use by,” “sell by,” “display until” and “best before” — cause unnecessary confusion for consumers. This results in perfectly edible food being discarded. In the United States alone, this can lead to around $29 billion being lost every year. The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) recently issued a Call to Action, calling on members to standardize food labels across the world by 2020 to help improve clarity for consumers and reduce food waste.

Measurement and traceability checks are also crucial. Governments and businesses need to monitor the amount of food wasted and identify points in supply chains where it is taking place. The CGF has been at the forefront of initiatives to improve measurement processes and traceability; it was part of the World Resources Institute Steering Committee responsible for the Food Loss and Waste Standard, providing businesses throughout the entire food value chain with an effective measurement toolkit.

Collaborative solutions

However, in developed economies, waste tends to take place at the consumption stage, meaning that public awareness campaigns should be prioritized. The CGF’s Call to Action on food labelling emphasized the importance of launching public awareness campaigns alongside food label standardization.

Most importantly, collective action is crucial. Governments, NGOs and the private sector must collaborate in identifying the root causes of food waste. Through a mixture of food labelling standardization, public awareness campaigns and accurate measurement, we can successfully tackle the problem. One thing is for sure, positive change needs to happen now.

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