Farm food waste and surplus costing UK £1 billion every year

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has published new figures today (25 July), revealing the extent of food surplus and waste in primary production.

An image of apples at a farm

The report, which is based on data from 2017, highlights that around 3.6 million tonnes of food surplus and waste is generated on UK farms each year, accounting for 7.2 per cent of production. The value of this food is in the region of £1.2 billion.

According to the report, food waste accounts for 1.6 million tonnes of the total figure, with a market value of around £650 million. Sugar beet, potatoes and carrots make up more than  50 per cent of the total food wasted.

The report also considers the percentage of a crop that becomes waste. Although 116,000 tonnes of milk waste arose, this constitutes only 0.8 per cent of total production, whilst the 104,000 tonnes of lettuce wasted accounts for nearly 25 per cent of the total.

Surplus food – products not sold for human consumption, but instead used as livestock feed, redistributed to charities or used to produce bio-based materials – is estimated at two million tonnes per annum, costing more than £500 million.

Although the study was not able to separate the amount of surplus food that goes to redistribution, animal feed or bio-materials, ‘conversations in the sector’ suggest that the majority is used for animal feed.

WRAP is currently working to acquire more data to direct further action towards targeting food waste. Its new online resource, the Food Surplus Network, connects farmers with organisations who can make use of surplus food, for example by distributing to charities, while the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap is helping to increase food waste measurements on farms.

Opening ‘new frontiers’ in food waste prevention

Peter Maddox, Director of WRAP, said: “This is the most detailed study of food surplus and waste in primary production undertaken for the UK, and a key finding has been the range of waste across all food categories.

“This tells us there is huge potential to reduce the amount of surplus and waste by promoting best practice, and that’s where our work is now focussed. We want to increase redistribution of surplus food as has happened across the retail sector, and I am pleased this will now be much easier through the Food Surplus Network.

“Given the scale and challenge of gathering data from the sector, we are calling on businesses and researchers to share their insights with us through our collaborative data sharing platform. This provides a simple way to share data with WRAP, which can be combined into a living evidence base. This will help bring more clarity to an issue that is happening around the globe.”

Mark Varney, Director of Food & Network Development of food waste charity Fareshare, added: “According to WRAP, over three million tonnes of food is wasted before it even leaves UK farms, or is used to feed animals rather than people. Assuming two thirds of this could have been eaten, that’s enough to create over four and a half billion meals for UK citizens each year – a staggering figure.

“We hope that, by shining a light on the extent of the problem, this report will help open up a ‘new frontier’ in food waste prevention. By working in close collaboration with farmers and growers, and helping them access up to £50,000 towards the cost of redistributing edible surplus to people via the FairShare Surplus with Purpose fund, we can unlock more of this good food and get it onto the plates of vulnerable people.”

Chief Executive of the British Growers Association, Jack Ward, said: “From a grower’s perspective, it is critical that we maximise sales of the produce grown on our land for its primary use.

“Any product left on farm, whether it fails to meet specification or is rejected for quality factors, is very frustrating. The costs of production are identical in either case, so for a grower the lack of return from unsold produce puts already slim margins under even greater pressure.”

“As the sustainability of our food production systems comes under increasing scrutiny, reducing waste at every point in the food supply chain will be an increasing priority. Having new insights into the scale of food waste and under-utilised production on farm is a positive step forward, and a resource that should be of use to many growers and the wider supply chain.”

Courtauld 2025

WRAP has taken steps to tackle the food waste crisis, launching its Courtauld 2025 Commitment in March 2016 – a voluntary agreement bringing together organisations across the food industry to improve the sustainability of food production. The commitment aims to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in food and drink waste by 2025 – against 2015 levels – saving an estimated £20 billion.

Courtauld 2025’s ‘Your Business is Food; don’t throw it away’ campaign aims to help businesses to track and reduce their food waste. The campaign’s starter pack includes simple tools and techniques to help businesses to work out how much their food waste is costing them.

You can read the full report on food waste in primary production on WRAP’s website.

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