EFRA report highlights ‘unacceptable’ levels of food waste
Government and retailers ‘must do more’ to reduce the ‘unacceptable’ levels of food waste produced in the UK and help consumers buy more healthy and sustainable options, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) has said.
The ‘Food security: demand, consumption and waste’ report, published today (22 January), states that both supply and demand issues must be managed ‘if a growing world population is to be fed at a time when environmental impacts, including those of climate change, are constraining food production’. The report collates evidence given to the committee’s October 2014 inquiry into food security (including that from the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the Sustainable Restaurant Association, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), and supermarket chains Tesco and Morrison’s).
It argues that all government and retailers must work together to ensure that the UK has food security despite ongoing pressures on food supplies due to population increases and climate change (which can affect growing conditions), and warns that access to ‘sufficient healthy and safe food at an affordable price’ is likely to become more acute in the future ‘unless action is taken’.
EFRA adds that in light of these food security challenges, the level of food waste that the UK produces (15 million tonnes a year, according to WRAP) is ‘unacceptable economically, socially and environmentally’ and ‘it is essential’ that the government provide WRAP with ‘sufficient public funding such that, alongside investment from other sources such as trusts and charities, it has adequate resources to enable it to maintain momentum in its food waste reduction programmes’. WRAP, which recently registered as a charity following ongoing budget cuts from central government, addresses food waste through programmes including Love Food Hate Waste and the Courtauld Commitments. EFRA argues that further investment would ‘reap economic results well in excess of its cost’ and ‘generate economic, social and environmental benefits’.
EFRA goes on to makes a series of recommendations to ensure that food supplies are secured ‘for generations to come’, including:
- central government, local government, the third sector and retailers should offer ‘information and advice’ to consumers to ‘encourage the purchase of sustainably sourced products’, nutritious foods, and UK-grown produce (for example, through effective food labelling);
- Defra should use data published by Public Health England on nutritional intakes to ‘refine its own estimates so as to take into account food bought but not subsequently consumed’;
- Defra should commission further research into why more people are using foodbanks (to provide an ‘evidence base to inform and enhance policy responses’) and collect and monitor ‘objective and statistically robust data’ on the scale of household food insecurity;
- local authorities should work with retailers to ensure that ‘affordable, healthy food’ can be accessed by all residents (including those with limited mobility or travel budgets), and ensure that those accessing online shopping are ‘not disadvantaged by poor broadband service’;
- producers and retailers should donate higher quantities of surplus food to redistribution charities (for example, by finding outlets for surplus food in ‘a timely manner’) but should also ensure that they have a ‘sound understanding of how to make surplus food available safely and legally but without being unduly risk-averse’;
- Defra should set up a task force to coordinate national work by charities, local authorities, retailers, food producers and manufacturers to establish an effective food redistribution network across the country; and
- Defra should appoint a food security coordinator, who should ensure that food and waste policies ‘interlink effectively’.
‘This level of waste is unacceptable economically, socially and environmentally’
Speaking earlier today, Committee Chair, Anne McIntosh MP, commented: "The work of charities and supermarkets to redistribute surplus food via foodbanks is commendable, but the amount redistributed is pitifully small compared to the amount of good food that currently goes to waste. Nine million tonnes of avoidable food waste goes into bins each year, yet a considerable proportion is fit for consumption when it is discarded: this level of waste is unacceptable economically, socially and environmentally.
“The government should set up a task force to coordinate national work by charities, councils, retailers, food producers and manufacturers to establish an effective redistribution network across the country."
McIntosh added: “The myriad choices millions of people make every day on what food to buy and from where to buy it must be harnessed to support national food policy goals, not through increased regulation but through better information from retailers and central and local government. For example consumers should be encouraged to buy British products, since British food production forms a vital component of a secure supply system.
“Further, with shoppers typically spending only a few seconds deciding what product to buy, the food industry and retailers can better help consumers to buy food from sustainable sources through providing clearer and more informative information. Defra should commission research to support improved labelling and retailers must be proactive in providing in-depth product information online and in-store."
Read the full ‘Food security: demand, consumption and waste’ report.