[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered tackling food waste.
Back in 2012, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on food waste. It was a collaborative effort, supported by Feedback—known then as Feeding the 5000—FareShare and FoodCycle, as well as Friends of the Earth and the World Wide Fund for Nature UK. The Bill received strong cross-party backing. I was then, and still am, a proud patron of FoodCycle and wanted to advance proposals that would increase the amount of food available for redistribution.
Although the Bill inevitably fell at the end of the parliamentary Session, I have continued to campaign for its provisions, and it feels timely to revisit the issue now for a number of reasons. France, for example, has just passed a food waste law. Belgium, back in May 2014, was the first European country to pass such a law, but the French law has gained more attention. It started with Arash Derambarsh, a local councillor representing a suburb in Paris, who set up a petition against food waste that got more than 200,000 signatures. The petition was triggered by the fact that supermarkets were pouring bleach on to edible food before binning it in order to prevent people from foraging in the bins to feed themselves. As some may remember, people were prosecuted in the UK for foraging in the bins behind an Iceland shop, which happened to be next to a police station. Although they were caught, Iceland, to its credit, asked the police to drop charges. That situation was similar to the one in France, although it did not involve bleach.
In France, the incident and petition led to the National Assembly passing new legislation that requires French supermarkets to partner with charities to donate food that is approaching its “best before” date. Although many supermarkets in France already do that, the proposals enshrine the practice in law. News reports now say that the councillor in question is hoping to take the issue to the UN conference on the sustainable development goals later this year and to the G20 summit in Turkey in November.
The French move has inspired a number of petitions in the UK calling for similar laws here. For example, one, through 38 Degrees, has garnered just under 180,000 signatures in a very short space of time. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) has tabled an early-day motion calling on the UK to introduce similar legislation. So far, that has attracted 36 signatures.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. Does she agree that as well as dealing with food waste downstream, once it has arrived at the supermarket, we need to intervene higher up the chain? Statistics show that between 20% and 40% of fruit and vegetables are rejected by supermarkets before they even get to the shelves, so it is part of a much longer process as well.
I am very pleased to see the hon. Lady in her place, not least because at the recent general election, the Greens campaigned in Bristol on the slogan: vote Green to “keep Labour honest”—so if she was not here today, who knows what nonsense I might come out with? However, she makes a valid point. I will speak later about how there has been so much focus on household food waste, but actually, this issue goes way back through the supply chain, as far as the dealings between farms and supermarkets.
Bermuda has recently passed legislation along the lines of the 1996 US legislation, the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which protects food donors and recipient organisations from civil and criminal liability when food has been donated in good faith. That was seen as important back then, because many potential donors and potential recipients were deterred by the fact that they might be held accountable if anything went wrong.
The excellent report of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into hunger in the UK, “Feeding Britain”, said that redistributing surplus food better would be the “next big breakthrough” in eliminating hunger in the UK. In particular, it recommended that food retailers and manufacturers should be set a target of doubling the proportion of surplus food that they redistribute to food assistance providers.
Last week saw the launch of the FareShare FoodCloud app, which will enable Tesco store managers to alert charities to the surplus food that they have at the end of each day. If a charity is interested in that food, it can get in touch and collect it free of charge. A surplus food summit organised by FareShare is taking place next week. It will promote the new tool and is aimed at inspiring suppliers to step up their own efforts to redistribute their food.
All that is very welcome, and it is the reason why I wanted to secure today’s debate. However, I want to go back to why reducing food waste is so important. We know that somewhere between 30% and 50% of all food globally is wasted. That surplus has an environmental footprint. It puts pressure on scarce land and resources, contributes to deforestation and needlessly adds to global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the US and China. It is also unsustainable if we are to meet the global challenge of feeding a growing population from an increasingly scarce agricultural resource base. It is, of course, indefensible that good food is thrown away when so many are turning to food banks, because they cannot afford to feed themselves or their families.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for securing the debate; she and I have spoken at seminars on this matter. My take on the issue is slightly different from hers. She is right to focus on ensuring that good food becomes available to those who need it, but should a lot of the focus not be on preventing food from being surplus in the first instance? Will she acknowledge the role of the packaging industry in that sector in making sure that food is kept fresh for longer? Innovations can be brought in, such as the re-closable cheese pack, which means that once opened, cheese continues to be useable for longer than would otherwise be the case.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I remember the conference at which we both spoke. One of my critiques of the Courtauld targets, which I will come on to in a moment, was that food waste and packaging waste were lumped together, in terms of the need to reduce both at the same time. I remember the point being made that although we want to reduce food packaging, and a lot of food items are over-packaged—individually wrapped bananas, for example—packaging can actually play an important role in reducing food waste. To me, that further underlines the need to treat the two issues separately.
On food banks, I wanted to make the point quickly that although I entirely support the work of food banks and think they play a very important role, we do not want to go out of our way to facilitate the creation of more food banks. We cannot allow them to become a feature of our welfare system. When the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, visited the UK a couple of years ago, he warned:
“It is only when government fails that food banks have to step in.”
He said that important as food banks are,
“they are not a substitute for social policies that protect people.”
Therefore, although I am arguing for much greater support from supermarkets, manufacturers and other people who are in a position to donate the surplus food to charities, it does not mean that I accept the fact that we need so many food banks and other food distribution organisations in the UK. I would much rather that the need did not exist and that we could find other uses for the surplus food.
Although headlines last month claimed that the UK tops the chart of EU food waste—in other words, we are the worst at dealing with food waste—a fairer per capita comparison ranks the UK as fairly average, coming about 10th out of 28 countries based on the data that were available in 2012. Since I introduced my Bill back in 2012, we have started to see very welcome steps being taken voluntarily by the industry, with Asda, for example, saying that it would donate all its surplus to FareShare. Tesco has led the way by publishing its own independently audited food waste figures and the other big supermarkets are now following suit. There had been calls for mandatory food waste audits, but I am pleased to see that the supermarkets are taking a lead on that. It is an important first step towards the industry, as a whole, publicly reporting on its food waste and then using those data to take much more ambitious action to reduce food waste.
Much more of our surplus could be redistributed. FareShare, for example, currently provides food for 150,000 people a week, saving just under 2,000 charities £20 million a year. However, that is with only 2% of the food that could be donated to it; the vast majority of food waste is still turned into compost, using anaerobic digestion, or is discarded in landfill. FareShare says that if it were able to get its hands on 100,000 tonnes of surplus food—a quarter of the 400,000 tonnes fit for human consumption that are currently allowed to go to waste—it could save the voluntary sector up to £250 million a year. That would make surplus food the second-largest supporter of charities after the Big Lottery, so there is huge potential.
We have touched slightly on the fact that the Government have focused most of their attention on household food waste. Households continue to throw away the equivalent of six meals a week, although there have been steady reductions, with waste down 21% since 2007. Some of that has been driven by much greater consumer awareness and by the success of the excellent Love Food Hate Waste campaign, which is a treasure trove of ideas and advice on how to reduce household waste.
However, focusing on household food waste, which has also been the food industry’s lobbying position, largely ignores supermarkets’ contribution. Some statistics show that just 3% of food waste in the UK is generated by retailers in back of store, with manufacturers contributing 27%. However, as the food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart has pointed out, there is a big disparity in how food waste is measured by household and by industry. Household food waste includes waste that cannot be used, such as bones and peel, while retailers’ food waste often excludes waste that could be used. In addition, supermarket purchasing policies, such as demanding food free from visual imperfections, as well as forecasting errors and over-ordering, are responsible for lots of the food wasted on farms and by suppliers, although we still do not have an accurate picture of what food is wasted at that point in the supply chain.
The hon. Lady was talking about household waste. A proportion of the household food that is thrown away is perfectly okay to eat, although it may have passed its sell-by or use-by date. Given that there is a lot of confusion in the minds of consumers about how long to keep food for consumption, would some clarification of those terms help?
I entirely agree. I was about to say that retailers make a contribution to food waste in the home. There is confusion over food that is labelled “best before” or “use by”. Many people do not understand those labels, and they think they will go down with food poisoning if they go anywhere near the time limits. Buy one, get one free offers on perishables, and packaging fruit and vegetables in multiple portions, rather than portions for one person, can also add to food waste.
The current lever for encouraging food businesses to reduce their waste—the Courtauld agreement, which is facilitated by WRAP—is voluntary and industry led. The industry set itself a very low voluntary target under phase 3 of Courtauld, which runs from 2013 to 2015. The target was to reduce household food waste by 5% by 2015 and to reduce manufacturing and retail waste by just 3%. The first year’s results show little change against that minuscule target, although signatories have reported a doubling in the food provided for redistribution. Those targets simply are not ambitious enough to drive the reduction that is needed. It should also be possible under Courtauld to see how well individual supermarkets and manufacturers are performing against the targets. At the moment, a composite result is announced, so we do not know who the good guys and the bad guys are. If companies were named and shamed, that would encourage the worst performers to follow the example set by the best performers.
There is also the problem that Government policies and subsidies, such as the landfill tax, incentivise less environmentally damaging forms of disposal over prevention and redistribution. We are therefore seeing the growth of anaerobic digestion, composting and refuse-derived fuel at the expense of prevention and donation.
I was deeply disappointed that Bristol City Council turned down the opportunity to become one of WRAP’s 10 food waste cities—a project that leads on preventing food waste. I am still struggling to find out why it turned that opportunity down, although it did tell me that it wanted to focus on composting. That suggests a worrying direction of travel, particularly given that Bristol is Europe’s green capital this year.
Much more needs to be done to enforce the waste hierarchy further up the pyramid, either through measures such as those in my Bill or through a system of financial incentives or penalties, as recommended by the House of Lords European Union Committee. In France, for example, fiscal instruments make it much more expensive for companies to send food to anaerobic digestion than to donate it to food banks. If the industry cannot drive the change that is needed, there is a need for Government action. The landfill tax, for example, was one of the most successful waste policies ever in terms of driving behaviour change and creating markets in more environmental forms of disposal, such as anaerobic digestion. However, there are no similar mechanisms to enforce the waste hierarchy further up the pyramid.
Should the UK introduce a Bill along the lines of the legislation in France? It has been said that the UK retail sector differs from the French sector in having less back-of-store waste, with such waste accounting for less than 2% of total food waste in the UK, compared with 11% in France. On the other hand, France manages to redistribute 20 times more food than the UK.
Concerns have been expressed that the French proposals could place an operational and logistical strain on charities, and questions have been asked about whether they would have the resources to handle any surplus. That is partly because the proposals in France were originally reported and misrepresented as placing an obligation on supermarkets to give away all their surplus. That gave the impression that they would be turning up at charities’ doors and forcing the staff to take food they did not want, which is not the case. The obligation is for supermarkets to put their best efforts into donating where there is a desire to take donations. The new FareShare FoodCloud app, which was launched last week, aims to have one common platform for charities, so that they do not have to deal with lots of different, and potentially competing, collection models.
Although legislation along the French lines might target only a small proportion of UK food waste, missing the much larger amount of waste in supermarket supply chains, and although such waste might not be the easiest to collect, it is symbolically important to embed redistribution in legislation. That would respond to the strong moral idea that food should not be thrown away when people are willing and able to take it.
My Food Waste Bill had a number of provisions, including a requirement on large food retailers and large food manufacturers to take steps to reduce food waste and to donate surplus food to charities for redistribution. If waste was not suitable for human consumption, it would, where legally permissible—EU rules prevent this in some cases—be made available for livestock feed rather than disposed of. There was also a good Samaritan provision in my Bill to protect food donors and recipient agencies from civil and criminal liability where food was donated in good faith.
At the time, the then Minster seemed interested in my proposals, but I was subsequently told that his Department had received advice that they would be incompatible with European food safety laws. I have since had a legal firm look into the issue, and it rejected that assessment, saying that any UK proposals would be okay as long as they closely resembled laws introduced in Italy more than 10 years ago. There is now less of a clamour for a good Samaritan provision in the UK, and legal concerns do not seem to be cited as often as a reason for not donating. It may be that the example set in other places —Australia and New York have good Samaritan laws—has set people’s minds more at rest. However, such a provision could still play a useful role in, for example, helping charities to access dairy products that, although perhaps one day out of date, would still be very much fit for purpose, or in redistribution from catering surpluses. I have heard from the Sustainable Restaurant Association and others involved in large-scale catering of huge amounts of food going to waste when a big buffet is put on at, say, a wedding, because food safety laws and concerns about health and safety mean that that food cannot be donated.
The Groceries Code Adjudicator has certainly helped to address some of the supermarkets’ unfair business practices, which were creating waste further up the supply chain. Those include the notorious take-back arrangements, which forced suppliers to take back produce supermarkets had failed to sell and meant they received no money. However, even though the Groceries Code Adjudicator is in place, suppliers continue to report the last-minute cancellation of orders by supermarkets, which often use cosmetic standards as an excuse, because order cancellations are no longer allowed. That is often done through a middleman, making it difficult for the adjudicator to take action. Indirect suppliers can bring complaints, but those are insufficient to launch an investigation. I therefore ask the Government to review this evident weakness in the adjudicator’s power so that supermarkets cannot get round the law in this way.
The details of Courtauld phase 4 are currently being worked out to cover the period 2016 to 2025 and I have some suggestions to put to the Minister. Will Courtauld phase 4 include food waste on farms? Will it require big supermarkets to report food waste transparently—a path that, as I have mentioned, some are already starting down—or will it continue with the current system where data are reported to the British Retail Consortium, which reports a composite figure? What will the targets be? Will we be looking at another 3 percentile, or will they be equal to meeting the challenge of one of the proposed sustainable development goals of halving per capita global food waste by 2030?
We must continue to consider regulation if the industry cannot deliver a more ambitious voluntary target. I understand that at the Stockholm food forum earlier this month the food companies that were present said they would welcome legislation to achieve that goal and ensure a fair playing field in doing so. I will be getting together soon with the various people who were involved in discussions about my Food Waste Bill of 2012, and revisiting it for 2015 to think about its possible revival and potential revisions or additions. I hope that if we decide to present another ten-minute rule Bill the Minister will give it serious consideration.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope; I am glad to be back in this place and contributing again. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) on securing the debate, on her long and distinguished campaigning on the issue and on her achievements so far. I am delighted that she is back to continue with it for the next five years.
I do not want to detain colleagues for too long—famous last words, but I will try not to. We often debate food poverty in this place, but too often do not consider how food waste interacts with that. There are numerous aspects to consider. I welcome much of what the Government are doing; the WRAP programme really makes a difference. It is worth reminding the Minister of what Lord de Mauley said in the other place about the importance of funding WRAP: that market failure in the private sector in the matter of reducing food waste justified continued Government funding for WRAP. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind as we approach the spending review.
Much of the debate on food waste focuses on what happens when food reaches the consumer, although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) pointed out, there also is much that the packaging industry can do to reduce food waste. The hon. Member for Bristol East spoke about meals left uneaten in the fridge; I have a difficult bag of cheese in my fridge at the moment, which is at risk of going off. I need to clear it out by next Monday when I get back to London. However, there are more innovative ways than that to address food waste, and I want to highlight one that has potential.
Once upon a time, I was at the cutting edge in talking about the community shop idea. Sadly, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has stolen my thunder by visiting the most recent opening in South Norwood earlier this month. With his Mayor of London hat on, he has given £300,000 to try to spread the development of community shops across London. It was the second one to open, after a trial example in Goldthorpe in South Yorkshire. The concept is an offshoot of Company Shop.
High quality, wholesome food from leading supermarkets is sold at a substantial discount in the community shop. In addition, customers are offered what one might call a personal development course: literacy, numeracy and ensuring that people are job-ready. There are strict qualifying criteria for membership. The people in question need to live in an area of recognised deprivation according to the Government’s deprivation figures. They need to be on particular qualifying benefits. In return they are given a six-month membership card and access to the courses. I think that the idea is superb. In the Goldthorpe trial, 20% of those who had access to the community shop during its period of operation found paid work at the end of the personal development course. That is a good outcome as a first step.
It should be noted that the food in the shop is edible, within date and wholesome. It is such food as we would see on supermarket shelves anywhere in the country. It might have packaging that is the wrong colour, or even the wrong shade. The product might be seasonal, or there might have been a forecasting problem on the part of the supermarket. There are many reasons why food can end up in the community shop at a substantially reduced price. The shops tackle one of the problems that the food bank movement faces—certainly in my constituency—of trying to source fresh fruit and vegetables from suppliers. That is an obstacle: the movement wants to provide a wholesome package of emergency food aid, but often can rely only on what is not perishable. I struggled on behalf of the food bank to secure good fruit and veg supplies. The community shop may be a way around that.
It is worth mulling over the arguments about what we do with misshapen fruit and vegetables. In the past I got myself into hot political water by advocating that funny-shaped fruit should be sold or be made available through food banks. It was a “Marie Antoinette: let them eat U-shaped cucumbers” moment. I am pleased that Jamie Oliver is now trumpeting the cause, because if he can do it then I can lower my head behind the parapet, and not attract such opprobrium as I did.
It is also worth noting the extent to which community shops and supermarkets are reliant on the charities mentioned by the hon. Member for Bristol East, such as FareShare and Foodshare. I, too, have seen figures about France. I seriously examined her Bill and was interested to note the figure of 1.7% of food being wasted at the retail stage here, compared with 11% in France. I noted also that in France the amount donated to charities is 20 times what we donate in the UK. I was trying to square those figures, and cannot quite get my head around them. My only hypothesis at this stage is that we have achieved, by voluntary co-operation and a degree of encouragement from the hon. Lady for the possibility of legislative change, something that the French have not been able to do without passing what is, I think, known as the “loi Macron”, which I think is proving popular.
To an extent, I share the hon. Gentleman’s confusion. There could be an issue, I think, to do with how we record the back-of-store food waste, but I think the figures suggest that the UK is more efficient further down the supply chain, in terms of ordering, so that it does not create as much waste, and that France is not as efficient at that, but is more efficient at passing food on for donation. However, I also suspect that it is a question of data not being recorded very accurately.
That is a helpful intervention. The matter remains worth further investigation. The reference to the French model is important. The Epicerie Solidaire network is massive in France; there is a network of some 500 of those social supermarkets. However, perhaps the best place to go to learn about the issue is Austria. In Vienna, Sozialmärkt are numerous. There are far more, per capita, even than in France. That seems to stem from strong work by local Catholic charities in Vienna.
Food poverty really speaks to the Catholic social action movement in ways that I heartily approve of, and there is a lot that we can learn from the work of groups such as the Vinzenz Foundation in Vienna, which works to allow access to social supermarkets not just by those on benefits, but also by those who are below Austria’s minimum income guarantee or the citizens’ income level. The opportunity is much broader.
All that might be of help in tackling one of the Goldthorpe findings, which was that it was necessary to have a screen across the front of the community shop, because of the stigma that was attached—just as there is with food banks, unfortunately, although there should not be. Like the hon. Lady, I do not want food banks to have to exist, but sadly I recognise that they do. I do not want any stigma to be attached to the idea of people seeking help in their community. Yet in Vienna, and perhaps in France, the wider remit of the social supermarket removed the element of stigma that might have deterred some people from seeking what can be life-transforming help.
The hon. Lady spoke quite a lot about the obligations that should be imposed on supermarkets with respect to the disposal of surplus food that is not sold. They talk a lot about corporate social responsibility and I am sure that she has heard that more than I have, but I have one example from an area of my constituency called Grange Park. It is a large council estate on the periphery of Blackpool. One might call that area a food desert: it is very remote from the basic supermarkets. It does have one branch of One Stop, which is referred to locally as Harrods because of the price of its food, which is far beyond what one would expect to spend if one went 2 or 3 miles down the road to one of the larger supermarkets.
One Stop is owned by the same chain as Tesco—it has the same parent company—and it has always struck me as a strange application of corporate social responsibility that in its smaller outlets, in the more deprived parts of Britain, it artificially increases its prices. Okay, there may be higher overheads because the shops are smaller. None the less, the prices are higher and people are paying that poverty premium that they should not have to pay. That also speaks to the food waste issue. Because the cost of the food is higher, it is more likely to go unsold, and it is those smaller outlets that might find it most challenging to ensure that their unsold food goes back into the system and is in some way reused. I therefore say to the supermarkets, if they are paying attention to this debate, that if they are truly committed to corporate social responsibility, why not ensure that they charge in their smaller outlets what they charge in their larger outlets, particularly in areas of deprivation?
I have gone on long enough, so I shall conclude by suggesting that the community shop idea need not be the sole preserve of one body, one organisation, but should be seen as part of an escalator between reliance on food banks for emergency food aid when the unexpected strikes and the full independence, autonomy and resilience of the average consumer in society. What I am talking about is an important step out of poverty for many people. I would like far more of those shops to spread out across the country, because they are a very good idea.
It is a pleasure to speak while you are in the Chair, Mr Chope. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) on securing this important debate. She has huge expertise, and I greatly admire the important work that she has been doing in Parliament on food policy and food waste for many years. I have no doubts whatever about her honesty, so I shall report back to Bristol East in those terms.
I also admire the huge number of inspirational projects going on in Brighton on food waste and food poverty. I shall highlight just a few of those before talking about some of the priorities for Government action on food waste and food poverty in the UK.
Last Friday, I had what was probably the best lunch I have had since becoming an MP. I was meeting a constituent. She was the person who started the 38 Degrees petition, mentioned by the hon. Lady, that calls for legislation to make supermarkets donate their leftover products that are still safe to eat to charities, food banks and so on. My constituent and I met at Brighton’s Real Junk Food Project café, a groundbreaking community project that intercepts food destined for landfill and turns it into healthy meals. The queue for that café was quickly out of the door and down the road. Everyone is welcome, from local workers and students to low-income families and homeless people.
We were joined by Adam Buckingham, who founded the Real Junk Food Project in Brighton, and he explained what to me at least was the revolutionary concept of “Pay as you feel”. That encourages people to think about what the plate of food means to them. If they cannot afford to pay money, that is fine. If they want, they can wash up, weigh some of the intercepted food or spread the word about the concept and the project. Everyone is made to feel welcome, irrespective of ability to pay. The project works with a range of partners, including supermarkets, food banks, independent retailers, restaurants, manufacturers and wholesalers. The previous Friday, the café had fed an incredible 330 people in three hours, all with intercepted food.
The dedication and talent of the volunteers who run the Real Junk Food Project and turn what would otherwise be waste into amazing food is immense. They have transformed 250 kg of frozen turkey, in blocks requiring a forklift truck to move them, into healthy meals—with some assistance from Brighton residents willing to offer emergency freezer space. They have dealt with 630 kg of chocolate, on three industrial pallets, turning up outside someone’s window. That might sound like a dream come true, but it is nevertheless a serious logistical challenge. This is a hugely impressive operation already, and the people involved have big ambitions for the future, including a shipping container café; putting to good use underused community centres; building a model of a main hub plus offshoots run by the local community; and, further ahead, expanding into deliveries to older people and others in need.
Another local project that I want to mention—sadly, there is not enough time to mention them all—is FareShare Brighton and Hove, set up 15 years ago to provide food to the 11 services in the city serving hot food to homeless people and last year expanding to FareShare Sussex. Now, it is an essential community food service with twice daily deliveries to more than 60 projects across Sussex, totalling more than 7 tonnes each week.
The first crucial point illustrated by those initiatives is that the current level of waste in our food system is scandalous. I am talking not just about waste from supermarkets but, as I mentioned in my first intervention, waste all the way up the supply chain. That a supermarket can apparently reject 30 tonnes of cauliflowers because they are the wrong shade of white tells us something about the fundamental changes that we need. An estimated 18 million tonnes of food is wasted in Britain annually, from farm to fork.
The second point is that food is a basic right and should be available to everyone, regardless of financial status. Unfortunately, that is not the society that we live in today. We heard earlier this month that there has been an alarming increase in food poverty and food bank use in the UK, with proposed benefit cuts threatening to plunge 40,000 more children below the poverty line. That shows that food bank visits, which topped 1 million this year, are just the tip of an iceberg of food poverty in the UK.
The public demand for the Government to act on food waste and food poverty is also clear, not least from the superbly successful supermarket food waste petition started by my constituent, Lizzie Swarf. As I said, that petition calls for legislation to require supermarkets to donate leftover food that is still safe to eat to charities and food banks, based on the new law on supermarket food redistribution passed by the French Parliament last month.
In just a couple of weeks, that petition has gained more than 175,000 signatures. I recognise that a number of logistical and other challenges would need to be worked out before such a law could be implemented, but that is not an excuse for inaction. I hope that the Minister will at least agree to go away and examine the options and work with expert organisations, such as the Trussell Trust and FareShare, on the best way forward. I hope that he will agree that a review should urgently examine ways to support food redistribution further up the supply chain and to tackle the root causes of food bank use, including benefit changes and delays and low incomes.
As FareShare has explained, the UK Government can and should play a significant role in ensuring that food redistribution is seen as an important piece of the puzzle to reduce food waste overall, ensuring that it is easier for charities to intercept food elsewhere in the supply chain. As the hon. Member for Bristol East mentioned, France, partly with Government funding, already redistributes 20 times more surplus food than the UK. Perhaps the Minister will today commit to doing what it takes to match that achievement as a first step. I hope that he will be able to tell us what his ministerial colleagues in other Departments—Health, Business and the Cabinet Office—are doing and whether they are open to playing their part in relation to food poverty, food waste and the charities that are making such a positive difference to so many of our constituents. A little Government funding for such projects would go an incredibly long way, and I hope that the Minister will have some specific advice to offer on that matter.
I shall end by highlighting a final piece of inspiration from Brighton’s Real Junk Food Project. It aims to use the catastrophic problem of food waste not just as a solution to hunger, but as a way of raising awareness—to teach people how to be waste conscious, how to live sustainably, how to compost, how to grow their own food and how to eat healthily. There is a huge role for education and culture change when it comes to our broken food system, and many organisations are already doing incredible things that bring to life positive, sustainable and healthy alternatives.
I hope that, as politicians, we can learn lessons in the course of this Parliament from the excellent work going on all over the country and ensure that we do our bit to fix the food system, too. I look forward to working with the hon. Member for Bristol East and others on this issue.
My final words to the Minister are these. There are not many win-wins in politics, so when we are staring one in the face, as I believe we are on this issue, it is incumbent on the Government—and, indeed, all of us—to do everything we can to grasp that win-win. I genuinely believe that it is there for the grasping and I hope very much that the Minister will respond positively.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today and I thank the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) for tabling this important debate on what I consider to be a principal concern in relation to one of the most important global issues facing us. The amount of food wasted each year worldwide is staggering: about one third of all food—approximately 1.3 billion tonnes—is discarded each year. Last year, the House of Lords carried out an inquiry into the cost of food waste across the EU and found that an estimated 89 million tonnes of food are wasted every year. Furthermore, it reported that that figure is set to rise sharply if action is not taken.
In the UK alone, it is estimated that households throw away 6.7 million tonnes of food per annum. Worldwide, food wastage is a major problem, as the hon. Member for Bristol East has said, with significant costs for the environment, the economy and society. Something is hugely wrong with our food distribution system if a third of food is wasted globally, but nearly 1 billion people across the planet go hungry.
The UK is by far the worst food wastage offender in the EU, as the hon. Member for Bristol East has pointed out. We should be deeply ashamed of that, and we should seek to remedy it. With food poverty becoming a huge problem, the redistribution of waste food should be a priority. I was pleased to learn last week about Tesco’s trial partnership with FareShare, through which it could hand tens of thousands of tonnes of surplus food from its stores to local charities. The scheme has already proven to be quite successful for Tesco in the Republic of Ireland, and I hope that we can look forward eventually to a UK-wide roll-out across all Tesco stores.
Although such corporate responsibility is to be commended, we as legislators have an obligation to fix our broken supply chain. The French National Assembly voted last month in favour of a Bill that will start to redress the food distribution system using waste food from supermarkets. The rare cross-party consensus surrounding the legislation demonstrates the importance and urgency of tackling food waste. Hunger and climate change should not be partisan issues. As elected Members of this House we have a moral duty to work together to address them, and I hope that the Minister will take that on board.
Last week, the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) tabled an early-day motion that called on the Government to introduce legislation to ban supermarkets from throwing away food that is approaching its best before date, and instead to make it available to charities and food banks. I was pleased not only to support the motion but to table an amendment, which called on the UK Government to engage with the Scottish Government on food waste.
Scotland produces enough food waste each year to fill 42,000 double-decker buses, and each household wastes, on average, £470 per annum on food that they throw away. The Scottish Government have set ambitious environmental targets for reducing CO2 emissions and reducing the amount of general waste that goes to landfill. The 2010 zero-waste plan is designed to promote sustainability, and the aim is for a maximum of 5% of waste to go to landfill by 2025. The strategy is implemented by Zero Waste Scotland, which is funded by the Government. One of its six key aims is to transform attitudes to food waste.
In my constituency, the local authority trialled a domestic food waste collection in the Drumsagard area in 2011. Such was the success of the trial that the programme was widened to incorporate many more homes in the wider Rutherglen and Cambuslang area, which, in common with every local authority, has a statutory obligation to provide a separate food waste collection service. Starting this month, some 133,000 households will be issued with a free small food waste caddy for use in their kitchens. That is an important measure, because the high cost to consumers of food recycling is widely seen to be prohibitive. The Scottish Government support the changes, and our climate change Minister last week announced that an additional £5 million will be made available over the next two years to help councils to roll out food waste collection schemes to homes across Scotland. Perhaps the Minister could take that on board for the whole UK.
Just across the boundary of my constituency, in Blantyre, a local company is helping to divert food from landfill back into the ecosystem. GP Plantscape now processes some 50,000 tonnes of food and garden waste at its in-vessel composting facility every year. That results in a nutritious compost, cuts down on landfill waste and helps to save the peatlands by offering a viable alternative product.
Hon. Members have not yet mentioned restaurants. The Scottish Government realise that small changes made by individuals can have a huge impact. Not only is Zero Waste Scotland keen to educate people about shopping smarter, making meal plans and using leftovers efficiently, but it has trialled innovative programmes such as the “good to go” scheme, in which restaurant customers took home their uneaten food.
The so-called doggy bag pilot last year was so successful that it is now being extended. The restaurants involved saw dramatic reductions in food waste, and it has been estimated that if restaurants across Scotland routinely offered customers doggy bags, the equivalent of 800,000 full meals could be saved from the bin every year. A lot more can still be done to divert food from landfill, and encouraging better consumption habits and widening access to food waste recycling are only part of a wider strategy. We have a responsibility, as legislators and as human beings, to do more.
We have to dare to be bold and innovative about how we approach food growing, harvesting, storage, distribution and disposal. As the world population continues to grow and demand for resources increases, food security will pose an ever greater problem. The hon. Member for Bristol East spoke about how we can deal with that. Changing deeply ingrained public attitudes is not an easy or quick process, but the action we take now will determine the legacy that we leave to the next generation.
These islands are wealthy, and the widespread explosion in food bank use should shame us all. In the last year alone, the Trussell Trust supplied more than 1 million people with emergency food support. In contrast, it supplied only 40,000 people over the same period five years ago. Food banks address a symptom of the problem, but it is incumbent on us all to address the causes. Much remains to be done to tackle the challenges that we face.
Food redistribution has traditionally faced a number of barriers. If we are really serious about tackling the problem that we face, we must work proactively with all the relevant outside organisations to effect change. As has been mentioned, one factor that has deterred businesses from donating food is the risk that they will be held legally liable in case of illness. We must find ways to protect and support those who donate food in good faith. In particular, we must support small businesses, which might otherwise find the implementation of a food waste strategy to be prohibitive. I would like us to legislate to divert food waste from landfill to those who are in need, and to ensure that sending waste to landfill is neither easier nor more economical for retailers.
We must look at how food loss and waste can be reduced at every stage of the food chain, and we must work together to address the food poverty crisis on these islands. There is much on which we can co-operate, and no doubt there is much that we can learn from one another. I enjoyed hearing from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about the initiatives in that city—especially the story about the chocolate, which sounded really good. The shipping container café is also a great idea. In addition, we have not spoken a great deal about how food waste could help elderly people. No doubt, there is much we can learn from one another to help us tackle the problem at a household, local and UK level. I support calls for legislation on food redistribution, and I implore other Members of the House to do likewise.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) on her re-election and on increasing her share of the vote. She has been, and I have no doubt that she will continue to be, an excellent representative for the people of Bristol and a champion for that great city. I congratulate her on securing this debate on the important subject of food waste. Her commitment to the environment is well known, and she has regularly championed in Parliament the need to tackle food waste. During the previous Parliament, she introduced a ten-minute rule Bill that highlighted this important issue.
I also welcome the Minister to his new role, and I congratulate him on his appointment. There have been a few changes at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Dan Rogerson lost his seat, and, as I understand it, the noble Lord de Mauley stepped down. I wish them both all the best in the future roles that they choose to pursue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East spoke with her usual passion on a subject about which she clearly feels deeply. Food waste is relevant to us all, as has been clearly illustrated by the contributions to this debate. We are probably all guilty, at one point or another, of not using food as efficiently as we should or, to put it another way, of not valuing food as much as we should. I was brought up by a mother who always said to me when I wasted food, “You would not have been so wasteful during the war.” That lesson remains with me to this day. I compost and do all the things that one should do to try to minimise food waste.
None of us should be surprised that the scale of the problem is very large, but it is only part of the much wider problem of a rising population and the need to increase the supply of affordable food in a world affected by climate change and water stress—which, of course, makes it difficult to secure the food supply, to say the least. Many of us believe that we will need to grow our food more efficiently in future, with less waste and less damage to the environment, and that there will be serious consequences if we do not. As always, it will be the poorest who suffer the most if we do not address these issues.
In the UK alone, according to House of Commons Library figures, some 15 million tonnes of food is either sent for landfill or incinerated annually. It is estimated that the economic cost to households and businesses of throwing away food is some £12 billion a year, or around £480 per household. However, although the economic costs are great, the real cost of that waste is environmental or, as the noble Lord Cameron once described it, a disaster for climate change.
In the USA, for instance, it is estimated that 300 million barrels of oil a year are used to produce food that is thrown away. In the UK, it is estimated that food waste is responsible for 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year, or about 3% of the country’s total emissions. That figure is equivalent to the emissions produced by 20% of the country’s car usage or, to put it another way, the amount of carbon produced by some 7 million cars. Additionally, it is estimated that 70% of all water consumption is used in food production, which means that in the UK alone some 5 million cubic metres of water a year is used in producing foodstuffs, a proportion of which is wasted unnecessarily. It is therefore clear and well understood that producing food for human consumption that is then not consumed is not only costly to business and households but environmentally damaging.
The importance of food waste was recognised by the last Labour Government, who established the Waste and Resources Action Programme. One of the programme’s outcomes was the Courtauld commitment, a voluntary agreement with industry that, in phases, aimed to improve efficiency and reduce waste in the groceries sector. That approach led to successes and to reductions in waste. For example, 1.2 million tonnes of food and packaging waste was saved in phase 1 of the commitment by using new solutions and technologies. That alone is estimated to have saved £1.8 billion and cut 3.3 million tonnes of carbon emissions between 2005 and 2009. During phase 2 there was a further reduction of 1.7 million tonnes of waste, with a monetary saving of £3.1 billion, by using such initiatives as the resealable fridge pack, which the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) mentioned, or by increasing the shelf life of products by improving delivery and storage.
It was recognised, however, that we needed to place this important issue on a more strategic footing and to address the wider issues of food sustainability and security, so we came up with our Food 2030 strategy. The vision established by that strategy was that, by 2030, the UK would have a low carbon food system that is efficient with resources, with any waste being reused, recycled or used for energy generation. The strategy clearly set out the actions needed to reduce food waste in the supply chain and at home, and it focused on what could be done by the Government and local authorities, households and consumers, the food industry and, finally, the Government and the food industry working together.
The strategy set clear goals for 2030: reducing food waste as far as possible; addressing waste in developing countries; and valuing surplus food. On that final goal, the strategy coupled the recycling of waste food with the need to share or redistribute food to vulnerable people. That goal is now more urgent following the rapid rise in the use of food banks in the UK over the past five years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East mentioned in her comments about FareShare.
The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) talked at length about Company Shop, which is headquartered in my constituency. It is a local business, and last week it received the Queen’s award for enterprise. The community shop aspect of Company Shop’s work is a relatively new innovation. Company Shop’s main business is providing surplus food from a number of supermarkets to employees working in food manufacturing and the emergency services—it is a restricted clientele. Broadly, it recycles food that would otherwise have gone to waste. Community shops are a welcome new initiative that couple access to cheap, good quality food, on the same principle as Company Shop, with positive help to get people back into work and back on their feet. I welcome that initiative, and I have visited Company Shop, which I wish all the best.
It saddens me to say that, in 2010, the incoming coalition Government decided, for whatever reason, to abandon Food 2030, effectively leaving the UK without an overall strategy to address supply, security and waste in the food industry. Not only that, but recent successes were threatened when WRAP’s funding was cut by £10 million. No wonder that, in a letter to members of the waste and resources industry, the previous Minister, Dan Rogerson, let it slip that the Government had “stepped back” from that policy area. Stepping back is not good enough, especially in the context of the huge strategic challenges that we face and the worrying increase in the number of UK citizens resorting to food banks in recent years to feed themselves and their families.
We recently heard that the Government have yet again made a partial U-turn. This time they acknowledged the need for a food strategy by announcing a 25-year plan for food and farming, which we welcome. If the Conservative manifesto is anything to go by, however, the plan might be narrowly focused and will not address the bigger issues in the same way that our Food 2030 plan clearly did. The Conservative manifesto made no mention of waste, so we now need a proper, thorough review of waste policy.
I conclude with the following questions for the Minister. What will the Government’s plan for food and farming encompass, and what progress has been made on setting it up? When might we see more details of that plan? Is he confident that the recent improvements in cutting food waste will not be lost due to the cuts his Government have made to WRAP? Moreover, are there any further plans to cut the WRAP budget?
Of course, as supply chains become longer, cutting waste successfully becomes a transnational issue that will require co-operation with trading parties, especially our European partners in the EU. At a time of great uncertainty over this country’s status in the European Union, can the Minister confirm that he will not allow any trans-European commitments to be negotiated away, and that he will continue the work started by the last Labour Government to reduce waste in food supply chains across Europe?
Seven senior waste industry, recycling and infrastructure bodies have written to the Minister, calling for a meeting to discuss future policy direction on waste. Their view is that clarity on the issue is needed from the Government. Is the Minister willing to provide that clarity? This debate is a great opportunity to do so. Will his Government make a rigorous and transparent commitment to tackling waste issues strategically and effectively?
Food waste is serious. It demonstrates market failure in the gravest of ways, it costs everyone in the country a great deal of money and it is doing immense damage to the environment. Unfortunately, this Government do not see it as a priority, and that needs to change. Food waste is a scandal. When people find it hard to access cheap, nutritious food, it is immoral for so much of this essential of life to be thrown away. That needs to change. I look forward to the Minister's answers.
I pay great tribute to the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) for the leadership that she has shown on this subject for a long time, and for raising the issue again so powerfully. It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope; this is only my second time standing here.
There is basically broad agreement in this room and around the country on the importance of the subject. Increasingly, Britain has been a global leader in tackling food waste. We need to do more, but there is a great deal of achievement for us to be proud of, particularly achievement by non-governmental organisations, the charitable sector and politicians such as the hon. Member for Bristol East over the past few years, and particularly since 2007.
As all hon. Members have pointed out, food waste is an issue requiring urgent action worldwide. Many Members have remarked that about one third of the food in the world is wasted. It is a tremendous waste not only of food but of water, energy, land and money. Agricultural land, for example, consumes about 70% of the world’s fresh water. In an era of rising population and global warming, we have a strong moral obligation to conserve those resources. I know that many people—not necessarily in this room, but in debates on this issue—focus on the economic arguments, but at the heart of the argument about waste, particularly food waste, is the depletion and degradation of precious resources. As hon. Members have pointed out, half of all food waste is produced by households: it amounts to nearly 7 million tonnes of food, worth about £12.5 billion a year, or £60 a month for an average family. Huge tribute must be paid to those who have taken action to address the issue, such as Love Food Hate Waste.
The hon. Member for Bristol East set the parameters for this debate. She provided a fantastic overview of the problems and progress since 2007, including Government legislation and the actions of NGOs. I will not recap those arguments, but she seemed to focus on four issues that were most urgent, in terms of my response as the Minister. One of them was about the contribution to the UK charitable sector that could be made if we were better at finding ways to get food to charities. She produced the astonishing figure, which I would be happy to explore further, of hundreds of millions of pounds in potential donations to charities. She discussed the notion of a good samaritan Act. One has been passed in the United States, but it has not yet been tested in law there, and she pointed out some of the issues involved. In terms of my answer to other hon. Members, the hon. Lady has laid out some of the complexities involved in the issue.
The hon. Lady also mentioned food waste on farms, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). We discussed that in great detail. The Government have been considering food waste on farms—waste that occurs before food reaches the supermarket—along with NGOs. We are considering whole crop purchasing, which could address the issue of people rejecting strangely coloured tomatoes. Take the example of class A, class B and class C tomatoes; one could imagine an individual retailer distributing them according to whether they were to be sold loose in a shop, to be processed, or to go into soups and sauces. Clearly, we need to do much more of that. The gleaning movement has brought attention to how much is left in the fields unnecessarily.
The hon. Member for Bristol East mentioned supermarkets not reporting in detail which individual supermarket has which amount of waste. In other words, the data are grouped together by retailers into a single unit, from which it is difficult for us to disinter those data. Her argument, which was about transparency and specificity—how on earth are we supposed to hold people to account if we cannot work out how much individual people are doing?—seems to me to be a good one.
The hon. Lady also talked about the importance of targets and how they might be used to drive action. One striking thing about the United Kingdom, looking back to 2007, is that we seem to have exceeded comfortably most of the targets that we have set ourselves so far. One debate that goes back and forth in the European Union is whether such targets are achievable, and what their marginal costs are, but we in the United Kingdom can take a certain amount of confidence from our ability to exceed those targets in the past.
I accept that we have exceeded the targets, but there is then the question of whether the targets were ambitious enough. It is easy to exceed targets if they are set very low. Perhaps we ought to try to raise our game by setting ambitious targets for the next phase of Courtauld.
Yes. As the hon. Lady will realise, the challenge of setting the right target is that it is difficult, thinking forward to 2030, to work out what is desirable, feasible and affordable, and what the different cost-benefit calculations will be. There will always be a tendency on the part of any Government, whether the previous Labour Government or ours, to set targets that are achievable. Equally, we need to be pushed to work harder; we need ambitious targets to make us get out of bed in the morning and shove towards them. I am happy to sit down and examine those targets in detail and talk through the constraints.
The more good ideas people have and the more technological solutions are developed, the easier it will be for us to meet those targets. To take an example from the debate on Tuesday with the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) about targets for nitrogen dioxide emissions, a leap forward to electric vehicles would totally transform our ability to meet those targets if we do not make enough progress in 10 years. It is not quite the same with food waste, but there are many ideas. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) pointed out the numerous innovations in food that could help us reach those targets. I am happy to discuss that in more detail.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) discussed fantastic models for community shops. I want to talk about that more generally at the end of this debate. Much of what the Department is taking away from this debate is that the best examples are at local level. It is not a question of civil servants from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or Ministers having all the bright ideas; we should be listening much more attentively to what is being generated by the NGO sector, community shops and individual constituencies, and learning from them.
My hon. Friend made a good point about the French model. He and the hon. Member for Bristol East discussed the astonishing statistics and why France appears to be able to conserve such a staggeringly high proportion of food. One thing that I genuinely do not know and would be very interested to talk about is the extent to which French fiscal instruments, particularly the French ability to count food donations and donations in kind against their tax bills, does or does not provide a perverse incentive; we need to focus on that. If the result of those instruments is to increase the amount of excess food that the French produce, because they are confident that they can then receive donation-in-kind tax benefits from disposing of it, that is not something we would want to encourage. We need to be very careful with these tax incentives to ensure that trying to do something that we want to do—making sure that that food gets to people who really need it—does not end up encouraging people, in a perverse way, to produce more food than they need to.
In response to the Lords Committee’s inquiry, the Government said they would not reassess their opposition to fiscal measures to increase food redistribution before considering the European Commission’s communication on sustainability of the food system. I understand that that communication has now been shelved—we had waited quite a long while for it to be published—and that a more ambitious circular economic strategy will be published later this year. Will the Minister take part in discussions on whether we can include incentives for food waste distribution in that strategy? I appreciate that it is very early days for him in his job, but I urge him to do so.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, and I will take on that message. However, having got into trouble on Tuesday for speculating about Treasury fiscal measures, I will not say anything about that issue at all. Nevertheless, the point is taken; we need to concentrate hard on this matter. Basically, the way that we will make progress on this issue is by sitting down with people who know a lot about the subject, such as the hon. Lady, and getting them to hold us to account and push us to do better. I am very happy for that to happen.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion talked about farm-gate food waste; we discussed how whole-crop purchasing should help, and it will be interesting to see whether we make as much progress on that as we hope to. We talked a little about the French model. It would be interesting to know whether there are things that the UK can contribute to other countries, as well as things that other countries can contribute to us. For instance, I would be interested to know whether our supermarket ombudsman model is something that we might want to share with other European countries as an example of best practice. There are things we can learn from other countries, but there are things that the supermarket ombudsman here is doing well to cut down on food waste, even by signalling to retailers in advance the dangers of a supermarket ombudsman intervention. Perhaps other EU member states could learn from that.
The hon. Lady asked what my Government colleagues were doing on food poverty, food waste and charities. The answer is that the Cabinet Office is joint chair, with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of a redistribution food round table; the Department for Education has a school food plan, having introduced, as she will know, universal free infant school meals last September; and the Department of Health provides “eatwell plate” guidance. There is also an NHS Choices website, which helps with menu guides.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West gave a really good series of examples from Zero Waste Scotland. I would like to talk a little more about this issue in detail at the end of the debate, but Zero Waste Scotland is a very good example of the range of initiatives across the UK, some of which are funded by Government, some by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and some by philanthropic donations, which are changing the way we look at food waste.
I was particularly struck by the hon. Lady’s intervention on the subject of composting. It is absolutely true that traditionally, when we look at the hierarchy of waste in relation to food, we prefer to eat food; our next preference is to have animals eat it; and then we eventually consider how we might extract energy from it, for example through anaerobic digestion. However, her point that food put into composting can save endangered peatlands is a very important environmental argument, and a real reminder that we need to keep looking at issues really broadly. One of the dangers in a lot of discussions in this area is that we can miss potential environmental benefits by getting so tightly attached to a particular model or hierarchy that we fail to consider, for example, the relationship between composting and peatlands. I do not want to move to a world in which we encourage people to over-invest in composting at the expense of eating, but it is worth bearing in mind that composting has not only an anaerobic digestion energy benefit, but a benefit to endangered habitats. I also liked the reference to doggy-bags; the hon. Lady made a very good argument for them.
The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) said that there were many challenges, and many things with which she was uncomfortable or unhappy. Of course, I am delighted that she welcomes the 25-year strategy, although I note that she has concerns about its content. So long as I am fortunate enough to be a Minister, we shall not step back from the subject of waste. A great deal of progress has been made. I would be delighted to meet the industry representatives she mentioned.
The hon. Lady asked specific questions about Europe. I am going to the Environment Council in Luxembourg on Monday. Clearly, European negotiations are extremely complex and we must ensure that we get different Government Departments to agree, so I am not in a position to make promises about exactly what we can deliver. However, our Department will certainly try to be thought-leaders and challenge other people in this field, and we will try to get what I hope will be ambitious responses from that European process.
The specific question about the Waste and Resources Action Programme and its charitable funding brings me to the core of this whole discussion. WRAP is a really impressive charitable organisation. It receives Government funding; this year, it received about £13 million. It employs about 200 people. The Government are not in a position to make promises about continuing funding a specific charity. However, WRAP seems to do a very good job, and on the basis of its performance to date, I reckon that it would be in a very strong position to continue to bid for support. WRAP has also been very good at diversifying and finding in-kind donations, which has had an added benefit: in some ways, it has pursued programmes in quite an edgy and creative way, which it might not have done before it applied to broader sources of funding. WRAP is certainly very impressive.
The Back-Bench Members who have spoken in this debate and are still sitting in front of me—my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, and the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion, for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, and for Bristol East—represent four different parties in Parliament. I am surprised that the fifth party is not present; I am not quite sure where the Liberal Democrats are in this debate. Nevertheless, I am very proud that there is a Conservative representative, a Green representative, a Scottish National party representative and a Labour representative here in Westminster Hall. Their presence is a reminder of how much importance we should attach to parliamentary work on this issue. The hon. Member for Bristol East pointed out how landfill tax, for example, has totally transformed recycling and waste. That is a very good example of the fact that Parliament has some levers and can bring about change.
The hon. Lady gave a good example from Belgium that shows that civil society and Government working together, rather than alone, is the key to resolving these issues. She talked about how petitions drove the Belgian process. To put that in context, the 200,000 people who signed that petition in Belgium, which is a country with a population of—
I thank the hon. Lady; I stand corrected. I was getting my Belgian and French petitions confused. But the conceptual point I wanted to make is that this process, whether in France or in Belgium, is about driving civil society actions, through petitions, alongside Government action.
I thank the Minister for his response, and for the detail that he is going into. Will he clarify what he thinks the obstacles would be to a piece of legislation that looked something like the Bill that the hon. Member for Bristol East brought before the House, or like the French model? Are they technical obstacles, which we can clarify, or are they ideological obstacles to do with regulation? It would be really helpful to know.
I am a little bit reluctant to get drawn into the detail of all this at the moment, but a series of questions would have to be answered before we could go ahead with that legislation. Take the good samaritan legislation in the United States. Given that it has not been challenged so far; given that most retailers in the UK do not seem to be indicating that the major obstacle to taking action or improving performance is a concern about being sued over food safety issues; and given that the Food Standards Agency would have to continue to exercise its legislative powers anyway, and that if someone unfortunately got food poisoning from food that had been disposed of, it would remain a responsibility of the Government—and, unfortunately, indirectly, of the retailer, probably—it is not clear to me at the moment that a good samaritan Act is necessarily the way to go.
I am being shifty about the next set of issues, because they relate to the Treasury and to fiscal instruments, which are for the Treasury to consider, and I do not wish to get whacked for speculating on them.
That brings me back to civil society and central Government. The key to all this— we have made more progress than anyone else in Europe in this respect—is the impressive role played by NGOs, such as the Real Junk Food Project, mentioned by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion; WRAP, which the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge mentioned; FareShare; and Feedback. The hon. Member for Bristol East mentioned Tristram Stuart, who is an extraordinary phenomenon. He has succeeded in combining his own personal lifestyle as a freegan with leading the collection of waste food and writing a best-selling book, and with his understanding of the intricacies of both national and European Union legislation and his attachment to technology. That is a really good example of where Britain is doing well.
The consequences of the work done by NGOs can be seen. We should also pay tribute to the previous Government for their funding to get WRAP off the ground. That is another good example of how things can be driven forward, and of the way that legislation, UK performance and global indicators can be shaped by such civil society debates. The app piloted by Tesco is the latest great example of people coming up with creative technological solutions that can go straight into a retailer. In addition—this is the point at which I sound like a crusty old Tory—this stuff is also good for the UK economy, because a lot of people are now exporting these ideas as consultants, taking British thought-leadership to other countries and showing how our approach to food waste can be replicated in other places. Of the extraordinary and impressive 21% reduction in household food waste that we have achieved, probably 40% has been achieved through the kind of awareness campaigns and civil society campaigns that have been mentioned. We do not want to minimise that in any way.
A decade of work to tackle food waste has given us much more knowledge of why and where food waste happens. We have tried and tested approaches that have delivered significant reductions. We now need to go further. Waste must be tackled across the whole value chain, and not just in the UK. We may need to start thinking about the value chain stretching into other countries. For example, if we are eating Kenyan food we have a moral obligation, in a sense, to the Kenyan farmers producing it, and to food waste in places where our supermarket ombudsman cannot stretch at the moment.
Food waste has a close relationship with sustainability and food security. The subject is central. Food, metaphorically and literally, is the energy of our lives. It is intimately connected to our soil, water and air, and to our habitats and our landscape. Again, speaking as a crusty Tory, it is also important to our economy. Millions of people work in this sector.
The answer is that I am going to evade that question. We do not yet have that plan, and I am not yet in a position to give the hon. Lady a deadline on it, but I promise her that we are thinking hard about the subject. I am happy to sit down with her and talk about where we have got to with that thought and take on any suggestions that she has.
Food to the value of £108 billion and the one in eight jobs connected to food and farming in the UK are connected to what every hon. Member in this Chamber deeply believes in, whether it be poverty alleviation, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys; the legislative programmes advocated by the hon. Member for Bristol East; the important arguments on the environment and resource depletion advanced by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion; or the civil society examples from Zero Waste Scotland produced by the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West.[Official Report, 15 June 2015, Vol. 597, c. 1-MC.]
I want to end with a huge invitation. I do not see why this need be a party political issue. There is obviously an enormous amount of knowledge in this room and I should be delighted to sit down with anybody who has good ideas about what we could do to tackle something that matters deeply to British citizens, the food industry and the packaging industry, and which matters deeply in respect of the resources on which our biosphere depends.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered tackling food waste.