Sustainability with regard to food is a major issue for debate and active policy planning. The great stage provided by EXPO2015 shone the spotlight on food waste, a question that demands analysis (and a response) from all the players in the food supply chain: producers/farmers/breeders, processors, distributors and end users.

According to the FAO, every year more than one billion tonnes of food are wasted, for a variety of reasons, in the developed nations (bad consumer habits combined with a lack of coordination among the various players in the supply chain), and in the developing nations (inadequate infrastructure and other financial and managerial structural weaknesses).

The FAO estimates that the global costs of food waste and food loss amount to around 2.6 trillion euro. In addition to the financial losses, there are huge environmental and social costs, including carbon emissions, use of water and agricultural resources, as well as a serious threat to biodiversity.

Every year the EU member states produce about 173 kg per capita of food waste and food loss, amounting to an annual total of more than 140 million euro, equivalent to the entire EU budget.

In response to this urgent question, the package of legislative bills on waste, which also contains the directive on the circular economy, sets out a number of concrete proposals, including the creation by the end of 2017 of a common methodology to measure and compare the phenomenon in the member states; the definition of a clear food consumption hierarchy with food for human consumption at the top (with respect to conversion into animal feeds or production of non-edible products); reduction of waste in the primary sector, in retail, in catering and in the home.

To facilitate achievement of these goals, a platform has been developed on multiple sectors to share best practices, including the by now urgent need to define and regulate donation of food surpluses to charitable organisations, where Italy has at last introduced tax incentives for distributors who donate their unsold surpluses. Even the simplification of labels, for example the resolution of the long-standing querelle between “expires on” and “best before”, would help to tackle problem.

Meanwhile in Bologna….

The second call has been launched for the Bologna Award for International Sustainability and Food. The award puts the focus on scientific and technological research in food sustainability, and aims to optimise the supply chain by reducing the environmental and social impact of production and distribution processes.

A significant feature of the award is that the winners pledge to donate the value of their prize (10,000 €) to sector projects and initiatives that are sustainable, durable and/or collaborative, so that research can continue to progress and foster the development of virtuous circles in food and agriculture.

The award was set up in 2015 for EXPO by CAAB, the Bologna food and agricultural centre, and Fondazione Fico, an Italian farming ‘factory’. Last year it was shared by Italian scientist Salvatore Ceccarelli for his work in under-developed and war-torn countries and areas, for example for the ICARDA centre in Aleppo, Syria, now destroyed by ISIS; and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, a no-profit organisation founded by fishermen on the US north-east coast to promote marine resources as a common heritage of the planet, which applies scientific research in the interests of full sustainability in fishing.

“Bologna is investing heavily in food, as are many other Italian cities,” says Andrea Segrè, president of CAAB and the Fondazione Fico. “We are promoting the ‘Fico’ Italian farming factory project, a theme park for the wonders of Italy’s agriculture-food supply chains. As part of the project we have formed a food education foundation and Bologna has not only welcomed us, but as the ultimate food city it wants to be an example. Italy is already well-positioned in terms of food and agriculture and spreading these good practices will promote further growth”.