MP seeks to introduce food waste bill

Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East, will introduce a bill to the House of Commons on 9 September that aims to address the ‘unsustainable levels of industry food waste’. The bill, supported by food waste campaigning groups Feedback and This is Rubbish, as well as redistribution charity FareShare, seeks to prevent food waste throughout all levels of the industry’s supply chain through a combination of stricter regulations and redistribution to charities.

According to a statement from McCarthy, this legislation is needed as government ‘policies have primarily focused on household food waste… but has largely ignored the waste generated by the food industry throughout its supply chain’.

MP seeks to introduce food waste bill
Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East
The Food Waste (Reduction) Bill provisions

The proposed bill will contain five provisions, which are:

  1. Supermarkets will be obliged to donate unsold foods, along the lines of Belgian and French legislative proposals, the latter of which was withdrawn for ‘procedural reasons’;
  2. Large supermarkets and manufacturers will be required to ‘publish and transparently report their food waste arisings across the supply chain’;
  3. Large supermarkets and manufacturers will be tasked with reducing food waste by 30 per cent by 2025 in line with draft proposals in the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package.
  4. The food waste hierarchy will be better enforced through ‘incentives (and disincentives)’; and
  5. Emphasis will be placed on everyone in the food waste system, from individuals to governments, reducing food waste.

Rationale for the bill

By targeting large supermarkets and manufacturers, McCarthy hopes that some of the ‘400,000 tonnes of fit for human consumption food that is allowed to go to waste’ could be redistributed to those living in food poverty.

In her statement, she explains why the bill is necessary:

1.  So far, government policies have primarily focused on household food waste – which has reduced by 21 per cent since 2007 – but has largely ignored the waste generated by the food industry throughout its supply chain.

2. The food industry’s voluntary targets simply aren’t ambitious enough to drive the level of reduction needed, or equal to the challenge of meeting EU and UN targets on food waste reduction.

3. Government policy – including Defra’s fiscal policies, such as landfill tax – have until now focused on enforcing the “waste hierarchy” further down the pyramid, benefitting slightly environmentally better methods of disposal (such as anaerobic digestion and composting) ahead of landfill. But this food is still wasted, even if it is disposed of in slightly less environmentally damaging ways. There is currently no government incentive for encouraging prevention and diverting surplus food from disposal and to those levels higher up the food waste pyramid – i.e. for human consumption and livestock feed (where unfit for human consumption). 

4. The UK redistributes just 2 per cent of its fit for purpose surplus food, in comparison to France which redistributes 20 times this volume. It cannot be right that good edible food is thrown away – or turned into compost or energy – when people are going to bed hungry, skipping meals, or can’t afford to give their children a nutritious evening meal. FareShare says that if the UK diverted for redistribution the same amount of food donated in France – around 25 per cent of the 400,000 tonnes of fit for human consumption food that is allowed to go to waste – it would save the voluntary sector (of approx. 13-14,000 such organisations) up to £250,000,000 per year. This would make surplus food the second largest supporter of charity after the Big Lottery!’

Rising profile of food waste

The issue of worldwide food waste has been gaining much publicity of late, with the now-scrapped French food waste law attracting a lot of support throughout Europe, and the UK government facing increased pressure from food redistribution charities such as FareShare to enact a similar law.

In conjunction with other campaigners, such as Tristram Stuart in the UK, Arash Derambarsh, who was behind the initial French proposal, has started a petition to launch a European Citizens’ Initiative, an official appeal to the European Commission (EC) to start legislation across the European Union to ban supermarket waste. It currently has over 640,000 of the million required signatures to force the EC to consider the initiative. In response to the campaign, MEPs voted to recommend the inclusion of an amendment to make supermarkets donate unsold edible food to supermarkets in the forthcoming Circular Economy Package.

Learn more about the politics of distributing unsold food in France and the worldwide issue of food waste

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