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Food: Waste

Volume 748: debated on Tuesday 29 October 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent discussions they have had with supermarkets about food waste.

My Lords, we are working with retailers through the Waste and Resources Action Programme to reduce food waste. We have set targets on reducing food and packaging waste for food retailers and manufacturers under the third phase of the Courtauld commitment which runs from 2013 to 2015. This phase targets a further 1.1 million tonnes of waste reduction. Forty-nine signatories have already signed up to the commitment, with a combined share of more than 90% of the UK grocery market based on sales.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is he aware that only one supermarket—Tesco—has published its food waste figures? How can the appalling levels of waste be driven down without more monitoring and reporting? Will the Government require all major food businesses and supermarkets to publish their food waste figures in their annual reports?

My Lords, retailers are already reporting their food waste figures to WRAP under the voluntary Courtauld commitment, so legislation specifically is not needed. Tesco’s initiative, which I warmly welcome, shows that the voluntary approach is working. Retailers like Tesco recognise that food waste is a global issue. Knowing where the waste is occurring is the first step to dealing with it and means they can focus their efforts in the right places.

My Lords, as this is a global issue, and indeed a European issue, what are we doing with Europe to look at the framework and to develop that in a European context?

My Lords, we are working extremely closely with the EU. EU drivers of food waste policy include the landfill directive’s targets to reduce biodegradable waste going to landfill and the revised waste framework directive’s requirements to manage waste according to the waste hierarchy, recycle 50% of household waste by 2020 and ensure that biodegradable waste is treated sustainably. We will continue those discussions.

My Lords, I echo my noble friend’s point about the Tesco waste figures, which are independently audited. It is also donating 2,300 tonnes of surplus fresh food waste, which is 7 million meals, to FareShare. While I agree that that shows that other supermarkets should do the same, will the Government please encourage them all to do as much as they can?

My noble friend makes a very important point. Indeed, that is why we are continuing to pursue the Courtauld commitment initiative, which was started under the previous Government and which has been extremely effective.

My Lords, as the growth in popularity of TV food programmes shows, we Brits love our food but we also love a two-for-one offer and the convenience of bagged salad. Between bake-off and BOGOF is the contradiction that many of us throw away more and more food while the numbers becoming reliant on food banks are spiralling, as people struggle with the cost of living crisis. Is there not a need therefore for the Government to work with retailers, broadcasters and others to help educate consumers, rather than having an Education Secretary who stigmatises and blames food bank users while downgrading the importance of cooking in the curriculum?

I was with the noble Lord until shortly before the end, which is why we place such store by the “Love Food Hate Waste” programme, which was initiated by WRAP. The good news, which the noble Lord may not know, is that “Buy one, get one free” deals represent a relatively small proportion of supermarket promotions. The majority of promotions are temporary price reductions: for example, “Was £8, now £6”. “Buy one, get one free” deals are often on non-perishable items or items with long lives, and WRAP is working with retailers to encourage alternative promotions for perishable foods.

My Lords, in his initial reply, my noble friend the Minister mentioned excessive packaging. What success has there been in reducing excessive packaging? We still have lots of wrapping around our shirts and around cucumbers, all of it unnecessary, yet at the same time we are telling local authorities to increase recycling.

That also is a very important point. We have some pretty aggressive packaging recycling targets, which go up to 2017. However, particularly in respect of food, there are relatively limited opportunities for more substantial reductions without resulting in product damage due to underpackaging. The environmental impact of that would be greater than that of the packaging itself.

My Lords, 100 years ago food waste was fed to pigs. Today, food that is consumed by humans one day is regarded as unfit or unsuitable to feed to pigs the next. Here is a natural, sensible recycling course to use up this waste. Will the Government look at the regulations, particularly those EU regulations, that prevent the feeding of surplus foodstuffs to pigs, with a view to opening up a sensible recycling route and saving a massive amount of waste?

My Lords, of course human safety has to be our key concern. There is EU regulation in place, to which my noble friend referred, that restricts the feeding of food waste to farm animals, although I am sure he is aware that there are some exceptions with low-risk foods such as bread, vegetables and fruit. We keep the situation regarding disposal of food and catering waste under review but, as I say, the main focus must be on human safety. There are of course other routes for food waste, such as anaerobic digestion.