‘Best before’ best gone to reduce UK food waste

Efforts to reduce food waste in the UK appear to have stalled and voluntary actions by the food industry are not going far enough according to an all-party committee report from the House of Commons.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in their report Food Waste in England published April 30th say that voluntary approaches to reducing food waste are “inadequate” and lack transparency and consistency in the way food waste is measured. However, the Committee did single out the work of supermarkets Tesco on food waste and the efforts being made by Sainsbury’s.

The Committee sets out recommendations for government and industry. These include reviewing whether there is a need for ‘best before’ labelling at all; improving food waste recycling; funding and resourcing the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) adequately; doing more to enable the redistribution of surplus food such as using fiscal measures like tax breaks. The Committee would also like to see a national food waste strategy and target.

How much food does the UK waste

Evidence presented in the report estimate that 10 million tonnes of food and drink waste (post-farmgate) is created each year in the UK and 60% of this could be avoided. WRAP estimates that, by weight, household food waste makes up 71% of the post-farmgate total, with manufacturing contributing 17% of food waste, the hospitality and food service 9% and retail 2%.

This adds up to £13 billion of food being wasted in the UK, approximately 7.3 million tonnes (2015 figures). In evidence to the Committee WRAP said that most consumers were unaware of the amount of food they wasted.

The Committee’s inquiry, launched in July 2016, points out that there is no enforcement in place to prevent or manage food waste and to minimise environmental impacts. They also criticised food retailers “unnecessary” cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables. For example, the report estimates 5-25% of apples, 9-20% of onions and 3-13% of potatoes are rejected by supermarkets on cosmetic grounds.

Scope for massive scaling-up of surplus food redistribution

Surplus food redistribution can be a controversial measure as a means of reducing food poverty – see food waste story in March issue of The Food Sustainability Report – but FareShare, a charity that handles food surpluses for charities, gave evidence saying around 10,000 tonnes of surplus food is currently redistributed to charities each year with a value to the voluntary sector of £19.3 million. But FareShare say there is a potential for ten-times this amount – 110,000 tonnes – of surplus food that could be re-distributed.