UK Government faces legal challenge for scrapping compulsory food waste reporting

Feedback – a prominent food campaign group – has filed for a judicial review of the UK Government's decision to abandon its initial plans to implement reporting requirements for businesses to address food waste.

Food wasteThe application for judicial review was filed by the group’s legal representatives – Leigh Day – on 27 October and follows the Government’s decision in July to scrap the process.

The Government’s decision was made in spite of a majority of responses to the consultation being in favour of mandatory reporting, with 99 per cent of overall respondents supporting the policy.

The consultation's legality is under scrutiny due to allegations that the government's choice lacks a reasonable and rational foundation in the evidence it received. Feedback asserts that the decision is also rooted in an insufficient impact assessment, disregards advice from Government’s own experts – the Climate Change Committee – and overlooks the potential emissions reductions resulting from obligatory food waste reporting.

Ricardo Gama, solicitor at Leigh Day, said: “The government has decided to continue with a voluntary food waste reporting scheme even though all the expert advice said that voluntary measures aren’t working. That includes advice from the Climate Change Committee, who have said that mandatory food waste reporting should have been introduced by 2022 in order for the UK to stay on the Balanced Net Zero Pathway.

“All the evidence shows that the costs to the shopper of introducing a mandatory requirement will be massively outweighed by savings which would be achieved by reductions in food waste. Our clients say it is impossible to see how the government’s decision can be based on a rational reading of the evidence.”

Food waste in the UK

Approximately 10.4 to 13 million tonnes of food go to waste in the UK each year, accounting for about 26-33 per cent of the country's annual 40 million tonnes of food imports.

Research conducted by the University of Bangor and Feedback indicates that cutting UK food waste in half would lead to savings of around 0.8 million hectares of cropland, both at home and abroad. Feedback estimates that this saved land could yield sufficient potatoes and peas to provide 28 per cent of the UK population with their yearly calorie needs.

Food waste constitutes a significant climate change concern, contributing to approximately 10 per cent of global emissions. To align with climate targets, Feedback argues that the government needs to implement substantial measures to reduce food waste.

Carina Millstone, Executive Director of Feedback, commented: “Reducing food waste is vital to reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The government’s decision to scrap its plans to introduce mandatory food waste reporting ignores its own impact assessment, the advice of waste and climate experts, and the preference of the vast majority of consultation respondents.

"We are highly disappointed that the government has chosen not to reverse its plans following our lawyers’ letter and instead prefers to sit back and wait for climate catastrophe to unfold. Rather than join them on the bench, we have now launched an urgent crowdfunding appeal to cover our legal fees and our lawyers have applied for a judicial review of this bizarre and reckless decision.”

Food waste reporting policy

Following the dismissal of mandatory reporting in June, the government is now considering extending voluntary reporting managed by WRAP until at least 2025. Notably, WRAP itself has emphasised that "mandatory food surplus and waste reporting are essential" due to the disappointing lack of voluntary business reporting while cautioning Defra in the Government’s impact assessment that "enhanced voluntary reporting" would be "more costly" and would target significantly less food waste compared to mandatory reporting.

The consultation responses underscored the significance of mandatory reporting, as voluntary measures have proven ineffective. In 2021, 70 per cent of companies that pledged to the voluntary Food Waste Reduction Roadmap had not yet publicly disclosed their data.

Feedback will also contend that the government overlooked crucial evidence regarding potential cost savings resulting from mandatory reporting. The government had justified its decision to repeal the legislation by pointing to possible expenses for businesses in implementing the regulations, potentially leading to inflation.

However, the government's own impact assessment revealed that food waste is currently costing the UK £19 billion, and any expenses associated with measuring and reporting food waste would be counterbalanced by reductions in food waste amounting to just 0.25 per cent. The impact assessment found that “unnecessary food waste is inefficient, pushing up the price of food for consumers and businesses'' and that reducing such waste “can help food businesses cut costs, which can be passed onto customers”.

Mandatory food waste reporting also had the support of a majority of businesses; 79 per cent of retailers, 73 per cent of the hospitality sector and 67 per cent of primary producers that responded to the consultation backed the introduction of mandatory food waste reporting.

Feedback’s application for judicial review will first be considered by a judge who will then decide within a few months whether the case will proceed.

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