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Minister Naughten addresses the National Forum on Food Waste

 

 

SPEECH
by
Minister Denis Naughten
Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment at
The EPA's Food Waste Forum
Radisson Hotel, Golden Lane, D2

10:15 Thursday 09 March 2017
 

 

Thank you, Laura.

 

Scale of Problem

I am appalled that we as a nation generate two tonnes of food waste every minute, yet one person in every eight go hungry.

 

It is a conundrum of our time that deprivation exists alongside this wasteful culture and what we do about it.  Older generations laid much store by the adage 'Waste Not, Want Not'.  They understood the seasonal and cyclical nature of abundance and need.  In a modern society, where everything is available, all year round and at every price point, new insight is required as to how we can live within the capacity of our planet in terms of the materials we consume and the waste we must manage.   It is easy to preach to people that our way of life is unsustainable.  It is harder to convince them to take action. 

 

Much of the discussion on climate change has focused on energy generation and how we choose to travel or heat our homes. However, what we eat has a substantial climate impact. The carbon footprint of wasted food is estimated at 3.3 gigatonnes. In fact, if food waste were a country, it would rank behind only the US and China for greenhouse gas emissions

There is enough food in the world, but because of our wastefulness, our inefficiency, people still go hungry.  Food security is an urgent economic and environmental imperative of our time. 

 

But to make change we must start with the here and now.  Like climate action, action on food waste is needed right across our society.  It is a very human response to look at a problem and conclude that the solution lies with others.  If only farmers wouldn't grow too much of the wrong thing; if only supermarkets wouldn't super-discount vegetables; and, if only consumers wouldn't fail to plan every meal.  The reality is that we all play a role and we can all be part of the solution. 

 

Each initiative I am announcing today will address a challenge at some point in the supply and consumption chain.  I hope by raising the profile of the issue nationally, that food waste will become an issue of public concern and debate.

 

Goal of Food Waste Forum

One of the objectives of today's Food Waste Forum is for all of us who care about our wasteful culture to come together to identify measures within the food chain where food waste can be minimised. 

 

This is an approach shared with other initiatives of mine such as the National Dialogue on Climate Action and the Clean Air Strategy. Public participation in the generation of ideas and their translation into actions is vital if we are to succeed in implementing sustainable solutions to these problems.

 

Today's Forum will link our domestic objectives with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the EU Circular Economy package.  While to date neither of these place a binding obligation on us to act on food waste, I believe that food waste is an issue where we in Ireland can make a difference ourselves. 

 

Firstly, Laura, as Director General of the EPA and I, have today agreed to sponsor a Food Waste Charter for Ireland.  This is a statement of principle and commitment about combating food waste.  The principle involves an acknowledgement of the food waste problem and our role in solving it.  The commitment involves undertaking specific food waste prevention actions.  I'm inviting everyone to sign the Charter at StopFoodWaste.ie and consider what they can do to take action. 

 

The Charter will be promoted and supported by the EPA as part of their broader waste prevention objectives and will be an important signal at home and abroad of Ireland's commitment to take action.  I hope the Charter will become the home of an Irish Food Waste community where ideas can be exchanged, support sought and found and most of all that the current energy for change can be sustained.

 

Factors that often contributes to food waste by consumers is confusion over sell-by and best-before dates. Reduced, or better, food packaging also has a role to play - excessive or unsustainably sourced packing forms part of the environmental cost of food.  The appearance of fruit and vegetables is known to influence consumer buying. A significant part of total food wastage occurs at the consumer level. Therefore one of the initiatives I am announcing today is that I am establishing Ireland's first Action Group on Wasted Food in the Retail Sector, to be chaired by retail expert Eamonn Quinn. 

 

Eamonn is a keen advocate for food waste prevention.  The Action Group, comprising of top level representatives of the retail sector, are to be tasked with agreeing a series of actions that the sector will take to reduce food waste.  Topics for agreement will include promotional strategies, awareness-raising and data gathering and sharing. 

 

Some companies operating in Ireland are affiliated to UK and European retailers who are already taking food waste measures abroad.  I want to see, as a minimum, those companies implementing equivalent prevention measures in Ireland.  Supermarkets have made themselves indispensable in our modern busy lives.  They do it very well but their influence - their purchasing power and their marketing power - brings responsibility too.  Corporate Social Responsibility must be meaningful and not just a governance tick-box.  I want to see Irish supermarkets leading the way on this issue. As a first step, I would like to see them signing up to the Food Waste Charter.  I am delighted to say that the first meeting of the Action Group will convene in parallel session this morning and I look forward to welcoming all involved.

 

Thirdly, I am increasing my financial support to the EPA's 'Stop Food Waste' campaign.  We need to get the message out to more families that the average Irish household is throwing out €700's worth of food every year.  In short, it is in everybody's interest that we take action and take action quickly. Critically, this will allow that team to grow the excellent work they do around the country with community groups and families.  Behaviour change can be a slow burn but it is possible.  I am confident that this grass-roots approach can make a real difference in the battle to help us change our ways.

 

Fourthly, I am supporting a new publicity campaign around food waste prevention and how the brown bin can play a role in reinforcing this message in people's homes.  Local authorities have worked together to produce a new media campaign, for release this week.  The message will highlight how the brown bin can not only help with proper waste segregation but also raise awareness of the scale and nature of food wasted every day.  If we find ourselves repeatedly tipping mouldy bread or wilted salad leaves into the brown bin, it is more likely that we will think twice before buying so much the next time. 

 

Public education, awareness and involvement is critical to the success of any campaign. 

Whether climate action, air quality or food waste prevention, I firmly believe that if we want to find sustainable solutions that those solutions must come from ourselves.

 

And as a final measure, I am looking forward to working with my colleague Minister Michael Creed on measures to improve performance in the agricultural sector through Bord Bia's sustainable farming programme, Origin Green.  Ireland trades heavily on our clean, green image.  Preventing food waste in agriculture and the agri-food industry is an essential component of that green story and must be recognised as such.

 

Irish agriculture is already taking the lead with a number of agriculture measures to improve efficiency in our agri-food sector and reduce our carbon intensity. These will build on the contribution of the sector to managing global temperature rise without compromising our capacity for sustainable food production.

 

Bottom-Up Community Action

I would also like to acknowledge the fantastic work being done in the area of food donation.  On its own, food donation is not the answer to food waste. However, it is a valuable and important tool in dealing with unsold food.  Many shops and charities have been working quietly in this area for decades. Foodcloud, is a wonderful example of social entrepreneurism with just-in-time transfer of food to charities in a way that maximises the opportunity for surplus food to be used.  Their work provides a great platform to build upon.

 

They have opened the door to bigger questions around food waste and shone a light on the difficult reality of life for some Irish people in our country, where 1 in 8 people don't have enough to eat - and this at a time when we are throwing out 1 million tonnes of food every year.  I want to see similar technology-based innovation emerging in the wider food prevention space. 

 

Conclusion

Many of you will have attended the first EPA food waste forum in 2014.  You were ahead of the curve.  I hope that today will mark a new beginning of joined-up and enduring engagement across all sectors of our community.

 

Since coming into office, I have been determined to make food waste prevention a priority. While there is much good work already underway, a step-change is required if we are to meet the full challenge before us.  It requires everyone playing their part. 

Sign the Charter and get to work.

 

Thank you.

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