Calls to clarify food labelling
Following the Scottish Government’s adoption of a food waste reduction target, a national retailer has warned that consumer confusion with labelling systems is leading people to throw away perfectly good food.
Research carried out by online residual stock retailer Approved Food has found that more than 50 per cent of people across Scotland throw away food approaching or past its best-before date, despite it being perfectly safe to eat.
The findings come days after the Scottish Government announced a 33 per cent food waste reduction target for 2025 as part of its circular economy strategy.
Of the respondents who admitted to throwing away food, 62 per cent said that getting ill was their primary concern. Approved Food founder and food waste reduction campaigner Dan Cluderay has said that the confusion between what is safe and what is not results in ‘needless waste’, with 11.5 per cent of Scottish respondents also saying that they thought use-by dates were indicative of quality rather than safety.
Nationally, the survey found that confusing labels are causing edible food to be discarded, with seven million Brits believing it is ‘dangerous’ to feed food approaching its best-before date to their families.
Eighty-eight per cent of Brits claim to be ‘quite confident’ or ‘very confident’ when it comes to reading and understanding food labels. However, Approved Food’s research shows that almost a third (30 per cent) of Brits incorrectly define ‘best before’ and fewer than half of the population (48 per cent) can accurately state what ‘use by’ means.
The research concluded that misunderstanding around food labelling is leading to a lack of confidence in the kitchen and, as a result, over half of respondents (54 per cent) said they regularly buy new food rather than eating food they have in their cupboards.
Approved Food works with food manufacturers and suppliers to provide an alternative route to market for stock that would otherwise end up in landfill. In 2015, the company says it dispatched over nine million items of short-dated and residual stock food and drinks to customers.
In an attempt to encourage consumers to learn more about food dates and reduce their waste, it launched its #PerfectlyGood campaign earlier this month.
The campaign will provide education on the differences between ‘before-before’, ‘use-by’ and ‘sell-by’ labelling as well as tips on how to store food to keep it fresher for longer.
Ambitious Scottish targets ‘not achievable’ without action
Commenting on the survey results, Cluderay said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding around food labelling and it can be confusing. People are puzzled by what ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ actually mean so it is little wonder that families are throwing away perfectly good food when they don’t need to.
“It’s vital to make sure people understand food dates and labelling and we want to make sure people are thinking before they throw food away. But until something is done to tackle this confusion we simply don’t see that the ambitious targets laid out by the Scottish Government are achievable.
“That’s why we are investing everything we’ve got in our new #PerfectlyGood campaign in a bid to raise awareness of the difference between best-before and use-by dates in a bid to reduce waste and save the UK £50 million.”
European Union could take action
The issue of food labelling has been a matter of contention for national and international governments for some time.
In 2014, the governments of Sweden and the Netherlands, with support from Austria, Denmark, Germany and Luxembourg, wrote to delegations from the European Union (EU) to ask them to consider supporting moves to remove ‘best before’ dates from certain food stuff packaging, citing their belief that they play a role in food wastage.
More recently, the European Commission’s relaunched Circular Economy Package committed to examining the use of best-before labels and other date marking, and how alterations to systems could benefit food waste reduction.