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Food Waste

Volume 542: debated on Wednesday 14 March 2012

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require large food retailers and large food manufacturers to take steps to reduce food waste and donate surplus food to charities for redistribution and, where food is unfit for human consumption, to make it available for livestock feed in preference over disposal; to encourage and incentivise all other businesses and public bodies which generate food waste to donate a greater proportion of their surplus for redistribution; to protect from civil and criminal liability food donors and recipient agencies where food has been donated in good faith; and for connected purposes.

This Bill is backed by Friends of the Earth, WWF UK, FareShare, FoodCycle and Feeding the 5,000, as well as the chef Lorraine Pascale and many others who have expressed their support over the past few days. People have been shocked to hear of the absolutely scandalous levels of food waste in this country and they want Parliament to act. Many MPs have been visiting food banks in their constituencies recently to see the excellent, although sadly necessary work that they do, and we had a well-attended debate on food poverty in this Chamber a month or two ago.

Now is not the time to debate why so many people are having to turn to food banks to feed themselves and their families. These are tough economic times, food prices are rising at above the rate of inflation, and many people are struggling to make ends meet. The charity FareShare is feeding 35,500 people a day, which involves 8.6 million meals a year. It is supplying 67 food banks and other outlets across Bristol alone. Many other organisations are doing the same or similar work, including the Trussell Trust, which has 170 food banks and predicts that up to 500,000 people will rely on food banks by 2015, and FoodCycle, which gets volunteers to run community cafés providing good-quality nutritious meals at low cost or at no cost to anyone who wants to drop by. Those organisations would be able to do much more of that great work if more food were made available to them. At the moment, however, about 50% of edible, healthy food across the EU that could be eaten is not being eaten. Globally, 1 billion people could be lifted out of malnourishment with less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, the UK and Europe.

The Bill is not just about tackling food poverty. By creating unnecessary demand, waste drives up food prices and the surplus puts pressure on scarce land and resources, contributes to deforestation and needlessly adds to global greenhouse emissions. In fact, 10% of rich countries’ greenhouse gas emissions come from growing food that is never eaten. The water used globally to irrigate wasted food would be enough to meet the domestic needs of 9 billion people—the number expected on the planet by 2050.

Government policy has to date focused on slightly environmentally better methods of disposal, such as anaerobic digestion and composting, ahead of landfill. However, there is no Government incentive for diverting surplus food from disposal to levels higher up the food waste pyramid such as human consumption and, when it is unfit for human consumption, livestock feed. Only action such as that could properly justify the carbon footprint created in making that food.

I am well aware that about half of all food waste is down to householders, but that sector is starting to achieve steady reductions, with a 13% reduction over the past three years. Supermarkets and manufacturers have played a role in supporting that reduction. For example, Warburton’s has removed “display until” dates from its bread, and Asda has introduced resealable salad bags.

There is also a significant food waste problem at the start of the food supply chain. Inequitable business tactics employed by some supermarkets, such as obliging their suppliers to accept the risk on unsold food, are due to be addressed by the much-delayed groceries code adjudicator Bill. I very much hope that that Bill will be included in the next Queen’s Speech, and that the adjudicator will be given the teeth that it needs to be effective.

I am by no means saying that retailers and manufacturers are totally to blame, but they do waste a staggering 3.6 million tonnes of food per annum. Reasons for that include over-production caused by inaccurate forecasting; labelling errors and barcode problems; a few damaged items resulting in a whole tray of goods being rejected; and expired promotional campaigns and seasonal offers. For example, any products carrying Olympics promotional offers will be dumped as soon as the games are over.

It is important to note that the main problem is not the so-called back-of-the-store waste—that is, the unsold food that is put into skips at the end of the day. By far the bigger problem is food that never makes it on to the supermarket shelves in the first place—the food that never even leaves the distribution centre. I have been told of one premium brand of breakfast cereal, for example, that is not put on the shelves if it has less than six months to run till its sell-by date. If the supermarket does not need to bring it from the distribution centre before then, it is wasted even though it would be edible for at least six months and probably a lot longer.

The food industry’s progress under the phase 2 of the Courtauld agreement is slow. The agreement set a relatively unambitious target of a 5% reduction in product and packaging waste in the grocery supply chain by the end of this year. This already compares badly with the equivalent Norwegian and Dutch targets of 25% and 20%. Despite the low hurdle, the work of the Waste and Resources Action Programme—WRAP—and the expenditure of millions of pounds of public money to subsidise big business’s waste-reduction efforts, the UK’s performance has been described by Tristram Stuart, the author of “Waste: uncovering the global food scandal” as “spectacularly dismal”. Businesses have cut their food waste by a mere 0.4% in the first year. Unfortunately, we see only the figures published for the sector as a whole, but I know that some companies are doing considerably better than others, showing that where there is a will, there is a way. As it stands, it is estimated that only 1% to 3% of the food that retailers could give to charities is actually donated, and that the percentage from food manufacturers is even smaller.

To turn to the detail, the Bill has three main provisions. In 1996, a law was introduced in the USA—the Bill Emerson Good Samaritans Food Donation Act, which has been replicated in every state in Australia. It protects good-faith donors and recipients such as food banks from civil and criminal liability. This has made a huge difference to the willingness of donors to donate food, as we heard yesterday at this Bill’s parliamentary launch from Jim Larson of Food Donation Connection. He works in the US with companies such as Starbucks, KFC and Pizza Hut, arranging for their unsold food to be frozen and passed on to hostels, shelters and other charities. He said that the lack of liability protection was a

“recurring theme in his discussions”

with UK branches of US food companies, which cited this as their main barrier to donating. Exempting companies from liability in the USA has led to a surge in food donation.

I was grateful to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister in the House of Lords for attending my launch yesterday and, as a consequence of what he heard, for asking his officials to meet Jim Larson this morning. I gather it was a very successful meeting, and I must stress that this legislation imposes no burden at all on businesses—on the contrary, it frees them from liability.

The Bill calls for large retailers and manufacturers to be required to donate more of their surplus food to charities, and for Government to encourage all other businesses and public bodies that generate food waste to do the same. It basically enshrines in law the waste hierarchy that will have to be implemented by all businesses and public bodies by the end of 2013 under the latest EU waste framework directive. This ranks measures according to their environmental impact, giving the first priority to preventing waste from occurring in the first place, but stipulates that when surplus does arise, the next priority should be feeding humans, then livestock feed, and so on, on to disposal methods such as anaerobic digestion, composting and, worse of all, landfill.

As I said, my Bill would apply to public bodies, too, encouraging them to reduce and redistribute food waste. The Houses of Parliament are, I am told, one of the biggest catering outlets in the country. Answers to parliamentary questions have revealed that a huge amount of food—of course, that also means money—is wasted here. I will be trying to persuade both Houses to sign up to an agreement for the hospitality sector, managed by the Waste and Resources Action Programme, as many Government Departments, perhaps all, have now done. I have an offer from the Sustainable Restaurant Association, which is prepared to carry out a food audit of Parliament’s catering services and to see how waste can be reduced or redistributed. We need to put our own House in order if we want others to do so, too.

This is a Bill whose time has come. In tough times when people are struggling to make ends meet and to put food on the table, the waste and profligacy in the food supply chain seem ever more obscene. I am gratified to see the number of people who have turned up to support this Bill today, and I hope that we can achieve a cross-party consensus and take these measures forward.

It is with a degree of regret that I want to oppose the Bill—not the whole Bill, just a tiny bit of it. With all the good will intended in my speech, I hope to draw the hon. Lady’s attention to my concern.

May I first congratulate the hon. Lady, as she absolutely right that too much food is wasted and that many things could be done to ensure that more food is utilised rather than wasted. I was particularly disappointed when Open Door in St Albans lost the food that had been available from Marks & Spencer because of the very worry to which the hon. Lady has referred—that it would face liability if something went wrong. That was a real wasted resource.

The problem that I hope can be addressed as the Bill makes progress—in some ways, I hope it does; I am worried about only a tiny bit of it—is the provision that refers to

“food…unfit for human consumption”

being made

“available for livestock feed in preference over disposal”.

I am completely sympathetic to the aims behind that, but I remind the hon. Lady that in June 1988, the Government banned the use of mammalian products in feeds destined for ruminants. She might remember that, unfortunately, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was contributed to by the prion that existed when mammalian products were put into the feed of ruminants. The disease’s spread was not stopped and, in March 1996, the Government banned the use of all flesh in the feeds for domestic animals because the prion linked to CJD lived through the processing of the two products.

I ask the hon. Lady—I am sure everyone is hugely sympathetic to what she wants to achieve with the Bill—whether she could tweak the wording so that there is no obligation to make all food waste available for animal feed. I hope that that would stop any future recurrence of inappropriate foods being fed to livestock and diseases potentially crossing the species divide.

That is my only objection to the Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Lady on presenting it. I am one of the old school who look at an apple and, if it is not wrinkly with a few things growing out of the top of it, will happily eat it regardless of the date on the label. My children look at the top of a yoghurt pot and say, “Oh mum, that was due to be thrown out yesterday,” but the hon. Lady is absolutely right: we have moved too far down the road of throwing away perfectly good, edible food. Years ago, people would use common sense to determine whether food was still edible.

My concern relates only to the small part of the Bill that requires all food products to be available for processing. If that could be tweaked, I would withdraw my objection.

Question put and agreed to.


That Kerry McCarthy, Luciana Berger, Robert Flello, Andrew George, Zac Goldsmith, Kate Green, Caroline Lucas, Dame Joan Ruddock, Laura Sandys, Henry Smith, Joan Walley and Dr Alan Whitehead present the Bill.

Kerry McCarthy accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 April 2012, and to be printed (Bill 318).

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I do not know whether you have seen this morning’s edition of The Times, but it states:

“The Chancellor will announce details in the Budget next week to borrow money cheaply”

from international monetary funds.

This is a very serious matter. It appears that there has been a leak from the Treasury a week before the Budget. Have you, Mr Deputy Speaker, received any indication from the Chancellor that he intends to come to the House immediately to make a statement on these issues? They relate to the bond markets, and they have a market impact. It is clear that information relating to next week’s Budget has been leaked directly from the Treasury. When we raise issues and questions about fiscal matters in the House, we are told by Treasury Ministers and others that we must wait for the Budget. Is it not time that Ministers did the same?

As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, what is in the Budget is sacrosanct until Budget day. He has certainly put his point on the record, and I think that everyone, including the Chancellor, is aware of the ministerial code.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. This morning news emerged that water cannon and CS gas are apparently to be available to police forces in London and, indeed, other parts of the country. Have you received any intimation that such a major change in policing tactics is indeed being contemplated, and that a Home Office Minister wishes to come and make a statement to the House?

No information has been given to the Chair, and, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, the matter that he has raised is not a matter for the Chair. However, he has made everyone in the House aware of it.