I often talk about needing bigger, ‘system’ changes to tackle food waste, and one example of this is changing food waste policy.
In July 2021:
- The Earl of Caithness tabled an amendment written by me and Feedback to the Environment Bill
- Update: the amendment was debated but sadly withdrawn
I’m beyond delighted that this amendment has been tabled (see page 9 here). But why this amendment?
There are five problems that this amendment addresses:
1) Although only 3% of food waste is attributed to retailers like supermarkets, this just means waste that occurs on their own premises. They are actually responsible for waste throughout the supply chain, including on farms.
2) Supermarkets force farms to overproduce food, impose unrealistic aesthetic standards on produce (i.e. reject “wonky veg”) and cancel orders at the last minute. But waste created because of these reasons does not equate into that 3%.
3) Moreover, there is currently NO DATA for how much food is wasted on farms. Feedback estimates this could be as much as 25% of all food waste in the UK. If this was finally measured, supermarkets could be held to account for their unfair and unsustainable business practices.
4) Supermarkets do not currently have to measure or report how much food is wasted in their supply chains.
5) Because there is no data for food waste on farms, and supermarkets are only seen to be contributing 3%, most responsibility (70%) falls on households – that’s you and me.
This is important, but it’s like telling us to recycle and switch our lights off while huge companies continue to extract and burn fossil fuels.
This amendment gets to the root of the problem. Measuring farm-level waste, and imposing targets and mandatory reporting will address unfair and unsustainable business practices, and will finally recalibrate how we hold different sectors responsible for food waste.
I’ve written about how supermarkets make their consumers (us) waste food at home, and this amendment shines a light on the power that large retailers have over food waste in this country.
Sadly, the government Minister Lord Goldsmith withdrew the amendment, so it will not be voted on.
However, there was a great debate about food waste, and eight Peers in total spoke on the issue. The Earl of Caithness introduced the amendment:
Noble Lords might very well ask why I am focusing on supermarkets when they have very little waste. I am focusing on them because I want supermarkets to take responsibility for their supply chains, and not just the food on their premises. To do this, we need mandatory reporting at farm level, which is currently not reported at all, and could account for as much as 25% of all UK food waste. Transparent reporting will reduce the food waste by big retailers, benefitting the environment, the climate and natural resources.Earl of Caithness
Lord Blencathra supported the amendment, saying: “Amendment 149A in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness is absolutely right in concept, especially the idea of reducing food waste across the whole supermarket supply chain. We often concentrate on the food that is unsold in shops at closing time, but we really need to tackle the rejected misshapen carrots, the less-than-perfectly shaped tomatoes and all the other food that is thrown away before it gets to the shops or caterers.” But he disagreed with the definition of “supermarket”, stating the amendment should apply to retailers that make an annual revenue of £200m.
The best speech in my opinion came from Baroness Jones of Moulscoomb. She said: “This is not an issue for individual behaviour change. A bit of education, perhaps: teaching people not to take those large packs of something that will end up with half rotting in the fridge, or whatever, but generally, this is for businesses—supermarkets—and for the Government to start legislating […] It is only by going after supermarkets and businesses that we can actually change the way we treat food waste.” I agree with this – individual change will fail unless we have systemic change too.
The amendment was called 149A because it supplemented Amendment 149 tabled by Baroness Boycott. I am grateful she tabled it and made the debate possible, but I have issue with how she framed food waste as a solution to food poverty. She mainly spoke about how food waste should be redistributed to those in need and food banks. However, academics and campaigners have made it clear that the solution to food waste is not to redistribute it to food banks. Some say it takes the responsibility of food poverty away from government. It also does nothing to prevent systemic food waste at the source.