By Thin Lei Win
ROME, April 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - European lawmakers on Wednesday took a major step toward slashing the amount of perfectly edible food that is discarded, costing billions of dollars a year and depriving millions of people who struggle to find enough food to eat.
The European Parliament in Strasbourg backed a law urging member states to halve food waste by 2030, requiring them to report food waste levels yearly from 2020 and provide incentives for collecting and redistributing unsold food.
"I'm very pleased with the outcome because it is the first time that we have a European legislation on food waste," said MEP Simona Bonafe, a member of the European Parliament's environment committee.
"In this regulation, you have for the first time binding measures that member states have to take to tackle food waste," said Bonafe, who was charged with drafting the text.
Take Action: Call on the EU to Halve Food Waste by 2030
It becomes law after approval by ministers - a formality - and is published in the official journal.
The food waste goals are part of the European Commission's "Circular Economy Package", a broader legal framework aimed at fostering sustainable growth and includes recycling targets.
Globally, one third of all food produced, worth nearly $1 trillion, is wasted every year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Europe's plan to halve food waste by 2030 is in line with the U.N. sustainable development goals to address global issues such as hunger. But campaigners, while hailing the vote, said the law does not go far enough.
Martin Bowman of Britain-based This is Rubbish said the 50 percent target is not binding, meaning nations would not face penalties for failing, but called the requirement to report annually as a breakthrough.
"This will transform the fight against food waste," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Critics say food waste is not only unethical in a world of rising hunger but also environmentally destructive.
Estimates show that in Europe, 88 million tonnes of food are wasted annually at a cost of 143 billion euros ($177.12 billion).
Meanwhile, 55 million people around the world struggle to find food, campaigners say.
A study published Wednesday by U.S. researchers found American consumers are wasting nearly a pound of food per person each day - the equivalent of four portions of chicken, four quarter-pound meat patties or a pint of blueberries.
Higher quality diets with large amounts of fruits and vegetables are also associated with greater amounts of food waste, wasted irrigation water and pesticides, it said.
The new EU law is part of wider global trend to tackle food waste, said Camelia Bucatariu, an officer on the subject at the FAO, pointing to the African Union's commitment in 2014 to halve post-harvest losses by 2025.
(Reporting By Thin Lei Win @thinink, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)