MPs call for national food waste target

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In the UK more than £10bn worth of food is thrown out each year | Credit: US Department of Agriculture

Cross-party group of MPs wants to see supermarkets forced to publicly report annual food waste figures and put more ‘wonky veg’ on sale

The government should set an “ambitious, formal target on food waste” to aid efforts to tackle the mountain of surplus food that is thrown away each year in the UK, according to a group of MPs.

MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee argue a national target would focus government attention on the problem, which sees 10 million tonnes of food and drink waste every year – an estimated 60 per cent of which could be avoided.

In a report released today, the cross-party group of MPs also calls on supermarkets to do more to tackle the issue, including following in the footsteps of retail giant Tesco by publishing annual food waste data.

“We commend Tesco for publishing its food waste data from across the supply chain,” committee chair Neil Parish said in a statement. “Sainsbury’s is moving in the same direction, but needs more transparency. The fact that no other retailers have followed their lead shows that a voluntary approach is inadequate. The government needs to step in and force other major supermarkets to be transparent about food waste.”

The report also urges retailers to relax strict quality standards and start selling more “wonky vegetables” as part of their main fruit and vegetable lines in bid to reduce waste in the industry’s supply chain.

Some supermarkets have started selling misshapen produce under specially branded ranges, but MPs say these products should become normalised to encourage consumers to value them just as highly as other produce.

In response to the report Sainsbury’s said supermarkets were being unfairly targeted.  “Whilst we welcome the committee highlighting the need for more work to reduce food waste across all sectors, including households, we’re disappointed the report fails to fully acknowledge the extensive work that has been carried out by certain supermarkets, such as Sainsbury’s, to tackle and significantly reduce food waste,” a spokesman said. 

“It’s also surprising that, while retail accounts for two per cent of UK food waste, the report states that manufacturing accounts for almost nine times more than this – and yet criticism in this report is largely reserved for supermarkets. We have made major strides in reducing food waste but recognise there’s more to be done. We cannot achieve this in isolation and believe it is now time for the wider sector to play its part.”

In the UK more than £10bn of food is thrown out each year by households, food manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and hospitality businesses, with serious environmental consequences. UK food waste is associated with more than 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

But despite various high-profile campaigns, in particular from waste advisory body WRAP, efforts to reduce food waste have had little effect in recent years – the latest data revealed earlier this year that household food waste levels have remained constant since 2012. 

Alongside more action from retailers and a national target, the MPs want the government to consider reforming waste collection systems across the UK. Although waste collections are currently run by local authorities, the report suggests a national strategy would help ensure consistent waste and recycling standards throughout the country and encourage the development of waste-to-energy plants capable of processing waste food. 

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