Ros Scott speaks out against food waste

Food waste 215 million tonnes of food wasted in the UK each year.

122 million tonnes wasted in the industrialised world (which makes the British contribution of an eye-wateringly high proportion).

The latter figure is equal to the entire food production of sub-Saharan Africa.

It’s a far cry from the days when we were growing up. Any waste at all horrified my Granny. She went to the shops every day and bought what she needed for that day and no more. Most of what she bought was relatively locally produced, unprocessed and fresh. Now, we have this massive internationally adventurous array of delights, flown from half way round the world to go into our bins.

A House of Lords committee has been investigating food waste for some time and published their report yesterday. The Committee chair is our Ros Scott. She is interviewed in this video, also available on You Tube here, in some detail about the findings.

The Report key recommendations include that the new European Commission taking office in November develop a 5 year plan to tackle food waste within 6 months and that supermarkets end Buy One Get One Free offers which encourage waste.

Ros described the extent of the food waste as “morally repugnant” and said:

Food waste in the EU and the UK is clearly a huge issue. Not only is it morally repugnant, but it has serious economic and environmental implications. The fact that 90 million tonnes of food is wasted across the EU each year shows the extent of the problem and explains why we are calling for urgent action. Globally, consumers in industrialised nations waste up to 222 million tonnes of food a year, which is equivalent to nearly the entire level of net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.

We cannot allow the complexity of the issues around defining and monitoring food waste to delay action any further. We are calling on the new European Commission, which will be appointed in November this year, to publish a five year strategy for reducing food waste across the EU, and to do so within six months of taking office.

There is also much that can be done domestically, and in particular by the big retailers, to reduce food waste. We are urging the supermarkets to look again at offers such as ‘buy one get one free’, which can encourage excess consumption which leads to food waste. We also think supermarkets must work much more closely with their suppliers so as not to cancel pre-ordered food which has been grown, is perfectly edible and is then ploughed straight back into the field.

The UK Government have a role to play in encouraging cooperation throughout the supply chain. They can also consider whether  tax incentives might be used to encourage retailers to ensure unsold food that is still fit for human consumption is actually eaten by people, for example by working with food banks, rather than sent to compost or for energy recovery, or even landfill, as is often the case at present.

We were shocked at the extent of food waste in the EU. Especially given the current economic challenges the EU faces, it is an absolutely shocking waste of resources. Some efforts are already being made, which is very positive, but much more can be done, and so we are calling on the EU, the Government, businesses and consumers to make sure it is.

Ros was also interviewed on Channel 4 News last night.  The House of Lords report has also been covered in the Independent and on the BBC.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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25 Comments

  • The trouble with the food “waste” debate is that the figures are meaningless. For example the waste figure includes egg shells, used tea bags, used coffee grounds, shells, animal bones, the skin and pips of lemons, the inedible stalks of woody herbs and many more things that are not usefully defined as food waste for the purposes of this debate (but are for waste management strategies). Until we have clear figures on how much waste is actually avoidable waste and not simply by-product then it’s difficult to get a real grasp on the scale of the problem.

  • “They can also consider whether tax incentives might be used to encourage retailers to ensure unsold food that is still fit for human consumption is actually eaten by people, for example by working with food banks …”

    Does that mean sending food that’s past its “sell by” date to food banks?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th Apr '14 - 12:01pm

    Jack, the report does deal in some detail with definition of food waste and says this:

    Food waste is more apparent, and easier to define, towards the end of the supply chain. At the producer level, though, the issue is much more complex, particularly in relation to on-farm losses. We conclude that food grown but not harvested due to adverse weather conditions should not be considered as food waste. On the other hand, food not harvested for other reasons, such as change in demand, should be included within the definition of food waste.

    32. We conclude that the idea of a universal food waste definition that works across the food supply chain and at different geographical scales defies the complexities of the European food supply chain. We recommend that a more productive approach would be to standardise approaches to defining different material and waste flows at each stage of the food supply chain, including unavoidable waste.

  • @Caron
    “122 million tonnes wasted in the industrialised world ”

    From the quote:
    “consumers in industrialised nations waste up to 222 million tonnes of food a year”

    Keyboard problems? 😉

  • Simon McGrath 7th Apr '14 - 12:33pm

    So when Ed M is running with the increased cost of living, we are proposing banning supermarkets 2 for 1 offers.

    Any evidence these contribute to food waste?

  • A Social Liberal 7th Apr '14 - 1:13pm

    The only way to prevent food waste is to do away with the ‘safe by’, ‘best by’, and ‘sell by’ dates, and personally I am not prepared to do so. Even if fresh food was distributed to food banks then there would still be massive wastage because they couldn’t move the food on before the afore mentioned dates are passed.

    Food waste is nothing new. Food outlets have always had a massive markup on their goods because of the amount of waste.

  • Simon McGrath
    How much evidence do you need? If we put one hundred billion tonnes of waste food on your doorstep would that convince you?
    I am guessing that it would not.

  • Simon McGrath 7th Apr '14 - 2:18pm

    @John well i would like some evidence that 2 for 1 offers lead to more waste. Can you give any?
    and indeed an explanation of why LDs should want to punish shoppers by abolishing these offers.

  • I’m afraid we live in a wealthy country and there will always be lots of waste. The only sure fired way to prevent that would be to raise the costs of goods and food, or somehow make shopping more difficult.. The cheaper the food is, the more waste there will be, but I don’t think any political party would like to be known as the party of higher food prices, no matter how good their intentions. Just think what Farage would do to Nick Clegg in that debate!

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 7th Apr '14 - 3:10pm

    @ Jack,

    It’s estimated that, in the UK, 80% of the waste figure is avoidable waste, rather than inedible things like eggshells and the like. The report notes that food waste can be divided into avoidable waste (60%), partly avoidable waste (20%) and unavoidable waste (20%).

    @ Chris,

    Kind of. The report looks at the difference between ‘sell by’, ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates, so, quoting from the report;

    “The sale of food beyond its ‘best before’ date is not illegal, although the quality of the product would not be expected to be the same as prior to expiry of the ‘best before’ date. A ‘use by’ date should be applied to highly perishable products that are likely to constitute an immediate danger to human health after a short period of time. The food is deemed unsafe after the ‘use by’ date and it is illegal to distribute it or offer it for sale. The use of ‘sell-by’ dates has reduced significantly. Such dates are used for commercial stock control reasons, rather than for consumer guidance.”

    Various foodbank groups, such as FareShare, are keen to help supermarkets by taking surplus items off of their hands, and they gave evidence to the Committee.

    @ Simon,

    You’ve made the entirely understandable mistake of believing what the media tell you. Nobody has proposed the banning of BOGOFs, merely calling upon the supermarkets to rethink their strategy in this area. For short life perishables, like salads, wastage rates are vast, a point acknowledged last year by Tesco. But BOGOFs on perishables tend to work against single people and the elderly, as they don’t get through the additional amounts before they go off. Instead, supermarkets could reduce the cost per unit.

    Oh, and yes, this is a cross-party committee, with all three major parties and the crossbenchers involved. But perhaps you might read the report – http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldselect/ldeucom/154/154.pdf

    @ malc,

    Actually, someone pays for all of that food waste – you, the consumer. You pay for farmers to plough perfectly good food back into the ground, for the cost of landfill, transport, energy consumption. You pay in terms of carbon dioxide emissions generated and for the food you buy but throw away.

  • Simon McGrath 7th Apr '14 - 4:07pm

    @Mark – thanks for clarifying

  • “The sale of food beyond its ‘best before’ date is not illegal, although the quality of the product would not be expected to be the same as prior to expiry of the ‘best before’ date. A ‘use by’ date should be applied to highly perishable products that are likely to constitute an immediate danger to human health after a short period of time.”

    The snag with that is that (based on a quick survey of my kitchen) nearly all foods are labelled with a ‘best before’ date but very few with a ‘use by’ date (milk was the only thing I could find with a ‘use by’ date on it).

    Surely many foods do become unsafe to eat at some point. Is it wise to encourage food banks to ignore the ‘best buy’ date, where that date is the only guidance available?

  • “I don’t suggest that anyone is suggesting that food banks ignore the ‘best by’ date …”

    So when you said “Kind of” above, you meant “No”?

  • @Chris – “Surely many foods do become unsafe to eat at some point. Is it wise to encourage food banks to ignore the ‘best buy’ date, where that date is the only guidance available?”

    As Mark indicates many of the dates used on labelling are conservative and are there for stocking and consumer guidance. Hence the date is something you take into consideration when determining both the method and length storage and the way you will use that product.

    So yes I would expect a supermarket to simply send all food it is unable to sell due to labelling restrictions to a food bank, and for the food bank in sifting the food to use the ‘best by’ and ‘use by’ dates (along with an inspection of the food item and packaging) to guide them in selecting an appropriate beneficiary. So for example short date perishable items (and badly dented cans) get sent to a caterer’s where food will be cooked and consumed rather than being put in a cupboard. At worst, I would expect a food bank to send it’s waste to a pig farm.

  • A Social Liberal 7th Apr '14 - 11:05pm

    Roland said
    “So yes I would expect a supermarket to simply send all food it is unable to sell due to labelling restrictions to a food bank, and for the food bank in sifting the food to use the ‘best by’ and ‘use by’ dates (along with an inspection of the food item and packaging) to guide them in selecting an appropriate beneficiary. So for example short date perishable items (and badly dented cans) get sent to a caterer’s where food will be cooked and consumed rather than being put in a cupboard. At worst, I would expect a food bank to send it’s waste to a pig farm.”

    There are several points to take up here.
    *Food banks are run by volunteers – I doubt that they would be able to provide the manhours needed to have an effective stock rotation .
    *Catering costs money, which again I doubt food banks to have much of.
    *I thought that pig swill was banned after BSE

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Apr '14 - 11:06pm

    I believe in ending Buy One Get One Free! It is not often I think the state has come up with a good regulation, but I think this is one!

    However, I disagree with tax incentives to encourage super-market behaviour. The tax system needs to be simple.

  • “I hope that I’ve clarified the point…”

    Well, it looks as though you’re now back to saying it does mean sending food that’s past its ‘best by’ date to food banks. Would that be fair?

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Apr '14 - 11:37pm

    Oh, I see there was some misreporting and nobody is calling for “buy one get one free” to be banned. Well, I think it is worth consideration.

  • “As Mark indicates many of the dates used on labelling are conservative and are there for stocking and consumer guidance.”

    The trouble is that if the “best before” date is the only one given – as usually seems to be the case – how is the consumer meant to tell how long after that date the food will still be safe to eat?

    An example – according to the Food Standards Agency, eggs are safe to eat after their “best before” date, but only for two days, and only if “they are cooked thoroughly until both yolk and white are solid, or if they are used in dishes where they will be fully cooked”. Under those circumstances, you can hardly blame people for going by the “best before” date!
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16183058

  • “Special offers”, whether BOGOF or some other sort, are NOT a customer’s friend. Rather they are designed to manipulate behaviour and entice customers into buying more than they intended or differently than they intended or to confuse about value for money.

    It’s significant that the “British model” of how retailing should be done (roughly that it’s perfectly okay for retailers to trick and deceive their customers and that ‘competition’ is just presumed to work even when the retailers are allowed to make up the rules) has not resulted in low prices. That has required the arrival in Britain of Aldi and Lidl from Germany working to a different logic learnt in their home market.

    So I’m with Eddie Sammon that BOGOF should be banned.

  • “No, I meant ‘kind of’, although it doesn’t help that you keep changing the question.”

    Ok, fine, Mark – I should have said “best before date” to start with, not “sell by date”. I’m quite happy to concede that you’ve “scored a point” over me, if that’s important to you.

    But having got past that, is the report recommending that food past its “best before date” should go to food banks, or not? Surely it either is suggesting that or it isn’t.

  • Richard Underhill 4th Jan '17 - 11:03pm

    Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been giving evidence to a parliamentary committee as on the Parliament Channel. Supermarkets are wastefully requiring good food to be discarded even though customers are willing to buy it.
    Hotels with businessmen as customers are ensuring that a full range of breakfasts is continuously available but is then discarded if not consumed.
    Cancellation of orders by powerful buyers causes people on low incomes to work for nothing and thereby discourages entrepreneurs from minimal investments in, for instance, Kenya.

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