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Food: Waste

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2013


Asked by

My Lords, the waste review sets food waste as a priority, outlining the Government’s commitment to tackle it by focusing on waste prevention. The Government are working through agreements with food retailers, manufacturers and the hospitality sector to reduce food waste. We are helping households waste less and save money through WRAP’s “Love Food, Hate Waste” campaign.

I thank my noble friend for that reply and welcome the improvement in the figure, but the fact is that food waste costs the average household £640 a year, which is a total of £12 billion to the country, and shows that there is much more to be done to help the consumer prevent this waste. Does my noble friend agree that supermarkets have a significant role to play in this area? While, for example, Asda’s promotion of WRAP’s “Love food, Hate Waste” campaign and the recent announcement by Sainsbury’s that its guidance to customers will move from “freeze on day of purchase” to “freeze up to the use-by date” are also to be welcomed, there is very much more they could be doing to support and encourage consumers in this area.

My noble friend is quite right that food waste is costing households a substantial amount of money. She is also right that there is more to be done to help people, and I agree that supermarkets have a significant role to play in this area. The major food retailers have been taking action to reduce food waste through the Courtauld commitment and have helped consumers to save money and waste less through innovations such as resealable salad bags, recipe ideas for leftovers and smaller loaves of bread. WRAP has also been working with food businesses to help them make informed decisions about date labelling, which will help reduce food waste.

Does my noble friend agree that we should place greater value on the food we eat? Will the Government’s Green Food project promote eating less, but better, meat, which could improve consumer health and animal welfare, cut carbon emissions and reduce domestic food waste?

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there might well be a current spike in food waste that could be addressed by more of the waste being taken away by horse and cart?

Very droll, my Lords. I can assure the noble Lord that when products such as those that I think he is referring to are tested, or are part of an ongoing investigation, they will be held securely and when ready to be released the products will be disposed of appropriately. Of course, if it is safe and appropriate for a product to go to anaerobic digestion rather than incineration or landfill, I hope it will. Needless to say, products that are not fit to be sold will not find their way back into the food chain.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of Vision 20:20, which is concerned to do something about this. Is it not time that we banned this material from landfill? It is seriously dangerous to create methane. Banning it would enable us to insist upon much wider recycling of that which is wasted.

My Lords, we have committed to reviewing the case for restrictions on sending particular materials to landfill over the course of this Parliament, including looking specifically at textiles and biodegradable waste. We are focusing on collecting the evidence. Our experience from working on wood has shown us that a good understanding of the data, waste streams, markets and other issues are vital to making informed decisions. Before making proposals on restricting any particular materials, the Government will need to be content that that is the best-value way of moving material up the waste hierarchy and that the costs to businesses—and, indeed, to the public sector—are affordable.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that how we use the earth’s resources appropriately, exploit its potential and treat fellow humans are moral as well as financial issues? Does he accept that extravagant or unnecessary waste of food should challenge us to think, “Who is my neighbour?”, and to answer that question with integrity?

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the supermarkets, the “best before” label apparently means that they are not allowed to sell it after that date. Yet there is quite a period when that food remains good, and this is a great source of waste. Many large establishments give all of that food away to homeless charities and people who come to collect. Are the Government or any of the private enterprises looking into spreading that practice so that people are not wasting food which is still good for some days?

My noble friend raises an important point. “Use by” and “best before” dates help consumers to know what is safe to eat. They are required by law. The “sell by” and “display until” dates, however, are not intended for customers and can confuse them. We have encouraged retailers to remove these from goods or to render them invisible to the human eye. Encouragingly, the WRAP retailer survey 2011 found that new labelling being rolled out by retailers including Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s makes it clear that consumers do not have to freeze goods on the day of purchase, but can do so any time up to the “use by” date. A number of supermarkets have also introduced new, larger, single-date label stamps on to products to help consumers make the best use of the food.