Britain declares war on food waste

Andrew Grice,Japan
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:12

The Government is to launch a campaign to stamp out Britain's waste food mountains as part of a global effort to curb spiralling food prices.

Supermarkets will be urged to drop "three for two" deals on food that encourage shoppers into bulk-buying more than they need, often leading to the surpluses being thrown away. The scandal of the vast mountains of food that are thrown away in Britain while other parts of the world starve is revealed in a Cabinet Office report today. It calls for a reduction in food waste: up to 40 per cent of groceries can be lost before they are consumed due to poor processing, storage and transport.

The report says UK households could save an average of £420 per year by not throwing away 4.1 million tonnes of food that could have been eaten.

Gordon Brown said he would make action to tackle the soaring cost of food a priority at the G8 summit starting today in Japan. "If we are to get food prices down, we must do more to deal with unnecessary demand, such as by all of us doing more to cut our food waste which is costing the average household in Britain around £8 per week," he told journalists on board the plane to the summit.

Mr Brown's determination to act follows The Independent's campaign to reduce waste through excessive packaging of food in supermarkets. The Government is to launch a major offensive to encourage supermarkets, restaurants, schools and all public sector bodies as well as householders to try to cut down dramatically on the amount of food they throw away.

The key findings of the 10-month review are that:

*Global food prices have risen significantly in recent years due to a combination of poor harvests in some exporting countries; higher costs for energy, fertiliser and transport; the diversion of some commodities to biofuel; and a long-term rise in demand for grain to feed a growing global population;

*The average UK household now devotes about 9 per cent of its expenditure to food, down from 16 per cent in 1984. But the poorest 10 per cent of households in the UK saw 15 per cent of their expenditure go on food in 2005-06; the richest 10 per cent just 7 per cent. And low-income households also spend proportionately more on staples such as milk, eggs and bread – products that have seen some of the biggest price rises in recent months;

*The increase in global food prices has hit developing countries the hardest, with food accounting for 50 to 80 per cent of household expenditure of the poorest. Price rises have contributed to social unrest in a number of countries.

At his first G8 summit as Prime Minister, Mr Brown will argue that the world's richest nations must do more to tackle the food price crisis. He will urge them to halt the decline in funding for agricultural projects in Africa, so the continent can boost farm production by 6 per cent a year.

He will call for a rethink over the use of biofuels so they are used more selectively. A separate study to be published by the Department for Transport today will admit they have contributed to the rise in food prices because land has been switched from food production to plant-derived alternatives to petrol and diesel.

Mr Brown hopes the G8 leaders can unblock the stalled world trade talks, which could collapse in the next few weeks.

The Cabinet Office study concludes that urgent action is needed on the supply of and demand for food. "The solution lies in raising the potential of food production in the developing world," it says. "If yields in Africa and elsewhere reached their potential, global food output would be much higher, far fewer people would go hungry and social instability around the world would decrease."

Oxfam accused G8 leaders of an "inadequate and hypocritical" response to the food crisis. Phil Bloomer, its spokesman, said: "World leaders ... must reiterate their promises to increase aid ... and make the necessary reforms including increasing investment in agriculture in poor countries."

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