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Euro ban on food waste means swans cannot be fed

February 20th, 1994

Acts of kindness such as feeding stale bread to swans, and bakers and other industries giving leftovers to wildlife charities or to the homeless, have been banned by an EC Directive which goes on to stipulate that those giving and those receiving must possess a licence as well. Adding insult to injury, these licences cost approximately £2,000 each. (The Observer, 20 February 1994)

The EC has not done any such thing. If this situation has resulted from anything it could be the UK’s 1990 Environmental Protection Act.

Elements of this Act implement EC legislation as agreed by national ministers. The relevant EC Directive deals with the disposal of waste (*), and aims to protect the environment and the health of EC citizens against the harmful effects that can be caused by the collection, transport, treatment, storage and tipping of waste. It is recognised that central to improving the efficiency of the management of this waste is the need to be able to come to a common definition of waste, marking out those products suitable for recycling and re-using, and those others which need to be disposed of in a manner appropriate to ensuring a high level of protection of the environment. The Commission has published a list of products which it feels fulfil these criteria (**).

However, Directives are drafted in a general way so that each Member State is able to put them into its own national body of law according to its own traditions and respective of its own needs and circumstances, so long as the minimum requirements of the Directive are respected. This is the essence of subsidiarity. It is the European Commission’s job to make sure that the Directive’s principles are adhered to. Should any Government wish to add to a Directive, that is their business.

In this case the Waste Disposal Directive does not define bread or products past their sell-by-date that can be eaten by humans or by animals as “waste” – it only talks of materials “unsuitable for consumption or processing”. These kinds of details are the responsibility of the UK Government, as is the question of licences and registration forms, and the level of fine to be imposed..

(*) – Directive 75/442, amended by the directive 91/156. (**) – Commission Decision 3/94.

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