UK Parliament considers legislation to ban food waste in Britain

The Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee has launched an inquiry to combat millions of tonnes of food waste

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The Independent Online

The UK Parliament is considering legislation to ban people from wasting food in Britain.

The Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee has received submissions from industry players, including farmers and consumer groups, on whether laws should be introduced to stop a crisis of food waste in Britain that leaves the nation trailing behind its European neighbours.

The Committee launched the inquiry after figures showed eight million tonnes of food is wasted post-manufacture in the UK. Research showed 60 per cent of this waste could be avoided, equivalent to £16 billion in food a year.

Other countries have adopted legislation to reduce food waste. In France, where is it against the law for supermarkets to dump surplus food, retailers redistribute 100,000 tonnes to charity.

Italy donates 86,000 tonnes to charity following the introduction of laws. In Denmark, the Government backed a food waste supermarket has helped reduce food waste after other initiatives helped reduce food waste 25 per cent in five years.

But the UK Government has been reluctant to introduce laws.

Government subsidies currently make it cheaper for businesses to turn food into energy or fertiliser than to keep it in a state where it can be donated to the hungry.

Over £160 million of taxpayers' money was invested in plants that convert unwanted food into energy in the 18 months to March 2015 alone.

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(Evening Standard)

Food charities say no similar subsidies exist to make sure food waste gets to the needy at a time when more and more people are turning to food banks.

"By not supporting the redistribution of surplus food alongside anaerobic digestion, the Government has come up with the classic law of unintended consequence: we are sending food to be used as energy when people are going hungry, which is barking mad," Lindsay Boswell, CEO of Fareshare, told the Independent earlier this year.

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(Statista)

Instead organisations like The Real Junk Food Project operate in the margins of the law, collecting food intended for landfill and using it to feed people at pay as you feel cafes and stores.

The project also uses surplus food to feed hungry schoolchildren as part of a Fuel For School initiative that is taking hold in Leeds.

Plans to ban food waste appeared in the Labour Party manifesto at the last general election, but were later scrapped. 

The manifesto was altered after the Conservatives released a dossier claiming that the food waste ban would cost £477 million.

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The Real Junk Food Project has thousands of meals using donated food (The Real Junk Food Project)

Anna Simpson is an environment and policy advisor at the National Farmers Union, which submitted evidence to the Parliamentary inquiry.

Simpson told the Independent that the UK Government should first look to improve voluntary measures as much as possible.

The NFU evidence calls for better retail standards to stop supermarkets from cancelling or changing orders without warning, leaving farmers with surplus produce.

"We’ve also proposed aligning promotional compaigns with production. When there’s a glut of seasonal fruit and veg, supermarkets could have promotional campaigns to aid consumption. Sometimes there’s a real glut of a product, but farmers and retailers have really struggled to get through the stores," Simpson said.

 

Simpson said less food waste could be achieved with improved forecasting, using data from the last five to ten years to identify trends. "Farmers need as much advance warning as possible because they need to make their business decisions up to twelve months previously," she added.

Rachael Maskell MP, the shadow environment secretary, has said that where voluntary measures don't work, legislation should be introduced to combat the issue.

"We need to do everything we can," Maskell told the Independent. "It should be mandatory. If voluntary codes don’t cut it, let’s move forward."

The Independent's sister paper, the Evening Standard, has launched a campaign on food waste in London. Find out more here.

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