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Food Waste

Volume 768: debated on Thursday 4 February 2016

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

My Lords, it is almost two years since the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, which I chair, published its report into food waste. At the time, it was enormously gratifying for the committee to produce a report that generated so much interest. The press office tells me it had more coverage than any other Lords Select Committee report.

The fact that around one-third of all food produced in the world is wasted is truly shocking. The waste of land, labour, water, carbon and all the other resources is truly staggering. When people around the world are going hungry, when the global population is set to increase and when many thousands of people here in the UK do not have enough to eat, this becomes a moral issue, too. It does not matter what sort of political philosophy you have—there is a case to be made for dealing with this as a matter of urgency.

So two years on seems like a good time to see what has happened since. In this time, food waste has rocketed up the agenda and efforts are being made at all levels. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who are speaking in the debate today and very much look forward to hearing from them.

The United Nations sustainable development goals, which were published in September, contain a commitment to halve food waste at the consumer and retailer level and to reduce food losses along the supply chain. The UN goals make a distinction between the two, as we did in our report, but I would like to give an example of where this is no longer quite so clear-cut. The campaigning organisation Feedback has spent several years looking at the supply chains of our major supermarkets. Focusing on Kenya, Peru and Guatemala, it has uncovered evidence of late cancellation of orders and overzealous size and shape specifications resulting in up to half the crop being wasted and massive hardship for farmers.

These were exactly the sort of practices which in UK agriculture had led to the establishment of the Groceries Code Adjudicator in 2013, and it is increasingly clear that farmers in the developing world need protection, too. Is the Minister aware of this issue and would he agree with me that bad behaviour should be stamped out, regardless of whether the farmer is in Norfolk or Nicaragua?

Our report made recommendations aimed at all levels of government. We asked the European Commission to look at areas where it has responsibility—date labelling, the regulations around the feeding of waste to animals, packaging regulations, fish discards, and the use of CAP funds for food waste reduction projects—and we asked it to spearhead work on common definitions, measurements and benchmarks.

Around the same time as we were producing our report, the EU Select Committee reported on the role of national parliaments in EU decision-making. It concluded that national parliaments should have a power to request action as well as to object. Under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, a so-called “green card” procedure was developed with the support of all EU parliaments. I am really pleased that the first-ever green card to be issued in the EU was based on our work on food waste. It was signed by 18 parliamentary chambers.

In December, the Commission published its Circular Economy Package, which includes a section on food waste. That reflects many of the recommendations that were made in our report and in the green card proposal. Will the Minister say whether the Government are minded to support the proposals on the table?

The thread which ran through our 2014 report was the role of the supply chain in generating food waste, and why it is essential to look not just at each stage but at the links between them. The UK is fortunate to have a highly effective think tank—that is what I will call it—WRAP. It is now a charity independent of government and it provides a unique combination of academically rigorous analysis, supply-chain knowledge and campaigning skills. It really excels at developing partnerships and has been at the forefront of doing so with regard to food waste. Its work with the hospitality and food service sector achieved a 3.6% reduction in food waste by its second year. In a sector where an estimated one meal in six is thrown away, it is really important to address this. The food service giant Sodexo has developed some very good initiatives and what strikes me from what it told me is how important it is to get the staff engaged, because, when they are engaged, things begin to happen and it is more effective than just setting targets.

A couple of weeks ago the Times ran an article outlining how top chefs are now moving away from à la carte menus in favour of more limited menu choices. That is exactly to reduce food waste. One Michelin-starred restaurant said it thought it could halve the amount of food it wastes. So regardless of the size of your business there is a clear economic case for dealing with this. This is an area where a lot more could be done, particularly by the large outfits. Will the Government meet WRAP and perhaps me and other Members to discuss what more could be done about this? Clearly, the public sector is an enormous user of these catering services.

Another good example of this partnership is the Courtauld commitment. The voluntary agreement started in 2005 is in its fourth stage and aims to reduce packaging waste as well as food waste. While recognising the limits of the new charitable status of WRAP, I hope that the Government will commit to continue to support its work. I was certainly very taken by a briefing from the campaign group Stop the Rot which talked about how important this is and I know that it, and I suspect some noble Lords here today, would like to see Courtauld do more and be more ambitious.

Retailers are still very reluctant to publish food waste data, so, in this regard, hats off to Tesco, which has been more open about its levels of waste; others should follow suit. Retailers are crucial in reducing supply-chain waste. They impact not only on the growers, as we have heard, but on the processors of food, and are key influencers of consumer behaviour. Tesco and Asda have done some very interesting work to assess levels of waste of their most popular products and have looked right through the supply chain to see what can be done. It is not rocket science—for example, using bananas that cannot be sold off the shelf as a base for frozen smoothies or using things for soups and sauces makes absolute sense, as does sending bakery waste to animal feed or converting used vegetable oil to biodiesel. The Food and Drink Federation told me that KP is now using potato starch generated from its processes to make products such as wallpaper paste. This is real value added from waste.

Our report highlighted a food waste hierarchy in which food produced for humans should, wherever possible, be eaten by humans—then turned into animal feed, then used to generate energy, then composted and so on to achieve zero to landfill. I think this is one of the most important aspects of this whole debate. Without getting into discussion about the need for food redistribution, of course it makes sense to use this food wisely. FareShare has reported a 30% increase in the food redistributed in the last two years. Indeed, its partnership with Tesco provides 1,700 community groups with meals. The Co-op increased its depot-level redistribution from 85 tonnes to 300 tonnes in the last year.

Marks & Spencer is using an app called Neighbourly that links stores with local charities and in the pilot a single store in Bristol in just six months redistributed 4 tonnes of perfectly good food that otherwise would have gone to anaerobic digestion. FareShare estimates that around 300,000 tonnes of supply-chain food waste could go to feed people instead of feeding animals or going to digesters or landfill. Will the Minister commit to exploring ways of ensuring that the incentives to behave in this way are lined up? We are still a long way behind the US, Belgium, France, Italy and Spain, and they all have some sort of fiscal incentive.

While it is true that much household waste occurs at household level, it is a complex issue to tackle. As we uncovered in our evidence, the causes are often rooted in modern life—irregular eating patterns, the weekly shop, a wider variety of food and so on, and much less basic knowledge about food. WRAP has developed the Love Food Hate Waste label and has even exported it to Canada. The retailers have stepped up to the plate on this, but there is still much to do to demystify date labelling, despite the Food and Drink Federation’s Fresher for Longer initiative.

We have made a lot of progress in the past two years but we are really still only in the foothills of what we need to do to make permanent inroads into the scandalous waste of food. What gives me cause for optimism is that I think that we have developed a sort of ecology. We have the academic rigour and analysis from WRAP; a huge variety of civil society groups, from the Trussell Trust to Stop the Rot; innovative use of technology; a willingness on the part of industry to really see the business case; and the campaigning zeal of people such as Tristram Stuart from Feedback, and celebrities such as Jamie Oliver, who are so effective at mobilising public action. We have done a lot, but there is much more to do.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for initiating the debate and for her excellent overview of where we are at the moment. I start by proudly declaring my interest as a new member of the board of WRAP—for the uninitiated, that is the Waste and Resources Action Programme—taking over from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I look forward to learning much more from that organisation and supporting its excellent work over the coming months and years. I am so glad that I decided not to focus on the Feedback report from Kenya, which is a very important part of all this. The noble Baroness mentioned the brand, Love Food Hate Waste, which will be well known to all in this Room and increasingly better known even to those who take less of an interest in these matters, as well as consumers.

I was asked on BBC Essex this morning what the problem is, why it matters and what we can do about it. I am not sure that I can answer all those questions in five minutes, but I shall give it a go. The problem, as the noble Baroness said, is that each year one-third of all food produced for human consumption across the globe is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain from production to consumption. The costs are enormous. Enough food is grown to feed the world today as well as the coming billions. We must support farmers in developing and sharing knowledge around cultivation methods, seed varieties and rearing techniques to reduce pre-farm gate losses. Improving food storage and investing in transport, which is badly needed to move food from producers to consumers, could help to reduce the amount of food lost across the globe.

Why does it matter? In a nutshell, we have a duty of care to the next and future generations to conserve and preserve the earth’s finite resources. Cutting down rain forests to grow soy, not for human consumption locally but to import for our pigs, seems absolutely crazy. What can we do about it? The noble Baroness has put a lot of questions to the Minister, whose answers I look forward to hearing. Here in this country, there are many more things that we can do, as government, supermarkets and consumers. I too pay tribute to the campaigners in this field who have done excellent work to highlight the issue—to Tristram Stuart at Feedback and to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose two brilliant television programmes last autumn motivated a new audience. What a great communicator he is. Who can forget him taking one-third of the food out of a shopper’s trolley and just chucking it away to illustrate graphically the amount of food consumers buy and then bin, as well as all the additional collection costs? How can we not be ashamed that the average family throws out the equivalent of £700-worth of food every year? That is £60 a month, and more than half of that food is edible. Between 20% and 40% of UK fruit and vegetables are rejected before they even reach the shops because of strict cosmetic standards set by supermarkets. This too was graphically highlighted by Hugh in his film about the parsnip farmers in Norfolk and their treatment by Morrisons. They tragically subsequently went out of business, but I would be surprised if the adverse publicity did not also damage Morrisons’ bottom line, as well as its reputation.

The point is that all of this could be a win-win. Greater support could be offered to FareShare, for example, which saves food destined for waste and sends it to charities and community groups who then transform it into nutritious meals for vulnerable people. The food it redistributes is fresh, quality and in-date surplus from the food industry. Last year, it redistributed the equivalent of 16.6 million meals. But despite a 30% growth last year, Fareshare was only donated 2% of what is available, unlike in France, for example, which redistributes closer to 25%, potentially saving charities £250 million. That is a heck of a lot of money. I hope that all large food retailers will commit to the principles of Courtauld 2025 and take immediate voluntary action to embed practices to cut food waste and improve implementation of the waste hierarchy in their disposal of food.

Confusion about food labelling persists. As far as I am concerned, the “sniff, smell and taste” test works, but if you are anxious or squeamish the use-by date is the only one that really matters. There are lots of encouraging figures in terms of reduction but there is so much more to do. As consumers, we can all do more to waste less. We can plan better, shop better, cook better, and be aware that by doing so we are saving ourselves money and saving our planet for future generations.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, on the debate. It is a vitally important issue and the Library research document is, I must admit, a mine of information. I only have five minutes so I am going to focus. The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, has ensured that I do not have to worry about the sheer cost per household because she has given your Lordships the facts on that.

I am focusing on food waste in the home. I had a brief discussion with Lady Young before I left and said that I was going to reveal some intimate details of the Young household—well, not that intimate, but relating to food. I have here exhibit 1. I usually have fruit but this morning I decided that I was going to have Shredded Wheat with a few bran flakes on top, so I picked up this packet of bran flakes. Lady Young does not throw things away unnecessarily and it said: “Best before 31 May 2014”. I thought, “I’ll give it a whirl”, and it was perfectly okay. It had been stored in an airtight container; it was tasty and I did not notice any difference. I doubt that the Shredded Wheat was any younger than about six months to a year either.

Then I started to look around. I looked at a tin of baked beans. I do not think it gave a use-by date but it said that once opened, the beans should be stored in the fridge and used within two days. That is a load of rubbish. I have eaten baked beans that are nearly two weeks old. What prevents me eating them? If I look inside and there is a bit of green mould, I draw the line at that. The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, made this point. If we threw out sell-by dates and put in smell-by dates, and if we threw out use-by dates and had “use by common sense” dates, we might start making progress in this area. I looked at a tin of salmon that has not been opened. It went out of date in 2015 but we are going to use it. If there is mouldy cheese, I cut the mould off and carry on using it. So there is a lot more that we could do in how manufacturers approach this, in the information that we give consumers and in education.

I had not heard of the Love Food Hate Waste programme but I think that it is brilliant. It made me think about reusing. I had my grandchildren down and I did the breakfast so I gave them bubble and squeak. “What is that?” they said. What is bubble and squeak? It is the great British invention and it recycles. It saves you wasting. Why do people use a bread bin? Put it in the freezer and pull out the slices when you want them. If there are any crusts left over, Lady Young incorporates them into bread pudding. Even our dog is not exempt from Love Food Hate Waste. Charlie the cocker spaniel loves cauliflower and broccoli stalks now, so we are all in on it—and it is important. It is a culture and an attitude of mind.

Regarding food, our council is changing collection and delivery. Only about 25% to 30% of households have food-waste boxes—very few—so we know that food waste is going into landfill, which is the worst possible option. Not everybody can compost, but our peel goes into compost and the small amount that we waste goes into the food-waste bin. The one area that concerns me where recycling does not seem to be done very well is cooking oil which, if poured down the sink, is really bad news. It goes into the water environment and it is quite hard to get rid of it. I was asking the council recently why we could not leave bottles of used oil out, which it could collect and recycle.

What else can we do? Love Food Hate Waste is great but I would like to push it into an area where I have an abiding interest, as many other people here no doubt have. I am a school governor in a primary school. If we educate the next generation to start encouraging their parents into good habits of cooking and how they use food waste, that would make a big difference. So my question to the Minister is this: what are we going to do about these very generalised sell-by and use-by dates, which contribute to the problem rather than help? Of course we have to have guidance on how to use and store food, but there ought to be a lot more common sense in it than currently. I am conscious of the time, but I hope that the Minister can give me a positive response on whether we can extend the ideas in the Love Food Hate Waste campaign into schools.

My Lords, it is not often that one finds it impossible to follow certain speeches, and I am not going to go through my breakfast because it probably would not be as impressive as that of the noble Lord, Lord Young.

I must declare an interest as a member of the board of the Marine Management Organisation, and I will say a little about that later. I start by congratulating not just my noble friend Lady Scott but also the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and my noble friend Lady Parminter for following this subject through, which is so important. I know from having been chair of the House’s Arctic Committee, which did not get quite the same level of publicity but did not do badly, that it is so important because we in this House put so much energy into these reports. It is important that the chairs of those committees, and other Members, follow them through and make the differences that we open out.

On the fisheries side, I congratulate the coalition Government and the present Government on having followed through with Europe in terms of landings requirements. That now means that, increasingly, the discarding of fish is illegal at last. That is true of the pelagic stock, for which it was introduced last year, and this year it is sensibly being introduced for demersal species. That will make a huge difference to the immoral waste that there was; something like 15% or 20% of some stocks was being thrown back into the sea to die. I do not think that the Government need any encouragement, but nevertheless I encourage them to keep strong in that area, not just in terms of our own fisheries but also those of our EU partners. That is really important.

The area that I want to talk about a little more is the developing world. Clearly, most of the subject so far has been around the UK. During the general election, I attended a meeting with the NFU in Devon and Cornwall as the Lib Dem representative. The meeting was in Exeter, and there was a lot of consensus and it was most interesting. But one question from a landowner in Devon was about the fact that we have a population of 6 billion on this planet and we are going to go to 9 billion. He asked, “How the heck are we going to feed them and deal with that?”. I put my hand up, schoolboy-style, and said, “Please, sir, I’ve got the answer to that one because I have read the report from the House of Lords which states that around 30% of all food globally is wasted”. So one key way of solving the problem of feeding not just the increased population but the existing people in poverty is by looking at this whole area of food waste. We need to make it not just a national issue but a global one.

Over the last year, I was very privileged to chair a commission for the University of Birmingham on the “cold” economy and doing “cold” smarter—it was all about refrigeration and supply chains. Again, one key thing to come out of that was that a large proportion of food waste in the developing world is because of wastage due to not being able to control temperatures; obviously the other major issues are just not being able to get to markets and pestilence. Cold chains are really, really important. There is a huge amount that we can help developing countries with in that area and I am very interested to hear from the Minister on that. It is clearly a DfID issue rather than a Defra one, but in terms of the global development goals and UK aid, are we helping in that process?

One of the other things about it is that, although waste food takes up the equivalent of about the size of Mexico and impinges on water and land usage as well, refrigeration engineering technology is extremely bad, polluting and energy inefficient. We have technological solutions for that in this country which we are implementing. It is so important that we allow that technology to go out to the developing world.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, on securing this debate and moving it through. The last thing I would say is that one of the great solutions to food waste in Cornwall is organisations such as the Cornish Food Box Company, which delivers food boxes and does not care what shape the food is at all. I recommend that fellow Members go to that source.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for securing the debate today and for the work that she led in the sub-committee. It was a joy to serve on that committee, which produced one of the most interesting reports I have taken part in. The important thing, which Lord Teverson has just touched upon, is to follow it through. This issue has had a lot of coverage and is hugely important. I declare my family’s farming interest at this stage.

The committee considered food production from seed to plate, understanding that waste occurs in the growing of the crop, from harvesting through to storage, processing and delivering before it ends up on the shop shelves. Waste occurs when crops fail due to climate conditions and they rot in the fields. However, as we heard earlier, it also occurs when retailers reject produce because it is misshapen, considered too small or fails to meet the standard size. The fact that there is nothing wrong with the freshness or the taste of the produce does not stop the item being wasted. This really is disgraceful.

The publication Force-Fed, produced by the Food Foundation, hit our desks this week. It contains some staggering figures which I should like to include in my contribution. It is based on a typical British family in the middle income band. The research shows that family food spend takes approximately 18% of weekly household expenditure, of which two-thirds is consumed at home and one-third on eating out. Of that, half the average shopping bill goes on processed food. Some 74% of people are not eating enough fruit and vegetables and 25% are obese. However, as we have heard, 7 million tonnes of food are wasted each year at a cost of £13 billion, which could be saved by buying more carefully and not wasting food. Households in the UK throw away 4.2 million tonnes of household food and drink annually, which is the equivalent of six meals every week. Vegetables, salad, fruit, fresh poultry and chilled ready meats are in the categories of higher- value waste.

This morning’s news caught my eye because it contained an item which showed that the average household loses some £700 a year through wasted food. The noble Baroness is topical because this issue has hit the headlines again. I believe that each of us has to take responsibility for the way we live our lives. We can make a difference, however small. I congratulate WRAP for the lead it has taken in raising awareness of the challenges we face. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, who has served on it before, and my noble friend Lady Jenkin, who now works very closely with WRAP. Its persistence in tackling the food waste scandal is absolutely key.

The Government have taken a series of steps. They backed WRAP and introduced a Groceries Code Adjudicator to ensure fair dealings between farmers and the top 10 retailers. They sought to establish better labelling, including what I call end-of-life—but that is something which would take another afternoon to debate—and calorie content. They have improved the standards required for school meals, particularly in primary schools, and most importantly they responded at Davos last week, via Liz Goodwin, to commit to the aim of halving food waste and reducing food loss globally by 2030 according to target 12.3 of the sustainable development goals. These are important steps.

Finally, I turn to food waste itself. In the first instance, wherever possible surplus food should be offered for human consumption. Secondly, where appropriate, it should be sold or given for animal feed, and finally, rather than throwing it into landfill, it should be used for anaerobic digestion.

I have two quick further observations. First, TV chefs, who have already been referred to, have been doing important work in showing us how good, wholesome meals can be cooked simply and cheaply using raw ingredients. Secondly, we should give credit to farmers who have opened up their farms, especially to schoolchildren for them to see how food is grown. Children come away having enjoyed the visit and having seen a farm for themselves rather than thinking of food only as they see it in the shops. Surely it is a scandal that we waste food when millions are dying each year of starvation, that obesity has become a regular norm of modern living, and that we look to others to solve these problems. Government does indeed have a role to play, but so do we.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, on securing her Question today. I should declare an interest as a former farmer and producer of food. Although a relative newcomer to this subject, I nevertheless have considerable concerns regarding food wastage in general. I was fascinated by the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Young, regarding his cocker spaniel. I have a black Labrador. She does not even allow us to get to the food before she has it before Sunday lunch.

I shall be very brief in what I have to say. Food waste is not a problem peculiar to this country. It is a worldwide phenomenon which has a vast financial and environmental cost, but the United Kingdom has a particularly wasteful record amounting to some £700 a year for every household, yet there has been a reduction in household food waste since 2007 of some 15% despite a significant increase in the number of households. This reduction has been achieved by the excellent initiatives being carried out through the Courtauld commitment and WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign. I congratulate them both.

Yet we continue to waste unacceptable quantities of food on a daily basis. To illustrate this, in the run up to Christmas, a very large provider of oven-ready poultry in the Midlands was marketing at greatly discounted prices carcases nearing their sell-by date which had been returned from supermarkets. With three days to go until Christmas Eve, I asked a member of its staff what would happen to a bird should it not be sold in time. The answer was that it would go to landfill. What a terrible waste. That is nothing short of appalling. In days gone by, the pig industry was an avid guzzler of swill, which took up considerable amounts of food waste. However, that practice was rife with some pretty dodgy activities and it was subsequently, quite rightly, limited following the foot and mouth crisis which did the agricultural industry so much damage. Why could this food not be frozen and brought out later for consumption in, say, hospitals, prepared meals and a large range of other uses for human and even pet consumption? What a waste. It is totally unnecessary to discard it.

What is being done to minimise the sending of such food to landfill? Surely the cost of sending such materials to landfill is significant in landfill tax when some sort of return could be achieved from recycling that material. Anaerobic digestion technology has revolutionised the disposal of waste food in the UK and beyond, but it is extremely expensive to develop at entry point. The start-up cost is millions of pounds. One has to ask the question whether, with the proposed reductions in feed-in tariffs, that makes the development of new AD systems and technology less economically viable, which is likely to reduce the attraction of using waste food as feed stock.

Finally, the practice of discarding considerable amounts of the catch by our fishing industry is immoral. It deprives our seas of breeding stock and the consumer of a product which could be used in a wide variety of foods. Is the Minister able to provide an update on the current situation regarding discards? While things might be seem to be heading in the right direction, with a great deal of effort from many people and bodies, in many influential areas there is still a very long way to go in our attitude to and handling of waste food.

My Lords, I am not the first or, I am sure, the last to use the word “shocking” in regard to the levels of food waste that we are finding in the UK and globally. For me, the issues are about respecting the resources that the environment provides for us as humans and sustaining people who are in need. Equally, one other issue which has not been touched on quite so much so far today is the impact on climate change, which the food waste levels that we produce in this country contribute to. As the Government look to address the fifth carbon budget later this year, I hope that they will be looking seriously at the leadership they are showing on tackling food waste as a key component of the draft legislation which they will be obliged to bring forward.

This House has a proud record of bringing forward this issue and, in that regard, I pay particular tribute to my noble friend and colleague Lady Scott, who has led this debate, both personally and through her work as the chair of the committee which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, both she and I were privileged to serve on. The report produced was excellent. The initiation of the green card was an exceptional step forward in addressing this issue and showing how House of Lords committees can have a major impact on public policy issues. Having seen the green card and its impact, it was therefore a great disappointment that when the commission brought forward its circular package directive at the end of last year, there were no targets on reducing food waste. I am also particularly disappointed by the response of the Government to the circular economy directive, which talked about avoiding unnecessary burdens on business and seemed to fail to grasp the opportunities for reducing food waste now and providing green jobs with WRAP, the excellent work of which other noble Lords have mentioned. On green jobs, WRAP said that if the EU did more to move towards the circular economy, at least 160,000 new jobs could be created by 2020 alone.

In the time allotted, I want to touch on just two issues. First, there is the lack of progress on food waste collection in England by local authorities. Only 31% of local authorities in England separate our food waste; most of it ends up in landfill. The overall increase in food waste collection in the UK has been driven strongly —almost entirely, if I may say so—by the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland. Wales has an approach which is quite mandatory and I think that it has achieved 86% of its local authorities having separate food collections. Scotland has gone for a different approach: it has a central waste framework and while it is not supporting a mandatory approach it has separate food collection for urban food businesses. Both approaches have in different ways delivered very impressive reductions in food waste, so it is really important that the Government do more to encourage local authorities to extend separate food waste collection.

As noble Lords have already said, that is important in its own right but also important if we are to encourage anaerobic digestion. The Government have said that they are keen to support AD but that will not happen if there are not significant food stocks to drive AD, which requires supplies 24/7 and 365 days a year. We therefore need more local authorities doing separate food waste collections, otherwise that sustainable local energy just will not happen. What plans does the Minister have to drive up English food waste collection?

The other issue I want to talk about briefly is retailers. Other noble Lords have mentioned the initiatives that retailers have delivered in the past year, given their pivotal role in the food chain. When we have the next Courtauld commitment, the recommendations will take us up to 2025. I do not think that we have seen as much progress as we could have done. If retailers do not make the progress that we want to see by that date, are the Government considering whether to bring forward not voluntary but legal targets?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for consistently championing this issue over the years and for tabling the debate today. We have had an excellent debate which has seen considerable and welcome cross-party agreement. In the short time I have to speak, I would like to echo the following three points. Sadly, I will not have time to share my breakfast habits with noble Lords—perhaps later.

First, as has been said, this is an issue with huge global ramifications as a result of population growth and the socio-economic changes which have seen a more western diet spreading across the world. The demand for food is expected to increase by 60% to 70% by 2050 and this will undoubtedly have a major impact on food security, prices and the environment. Yet as we have heard, a third of all food in the food system globally is wasted, valued at around £600 billion. Apart from the obvious waste of scarce resources, as we have heard, this contributes to 3% to 5% of global warming, so there has never been a better reason for collaboration to tackle food waste on a global scale. That is why we support the delivery of Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 which seeks to halve per capita global waste throughout the supply system by 2030. It is also why we welcome the Champions 12.3 coalition of leaders to inspire ambition, mobilise action and accelerate progress towards achieving those goals. Perhaps the Minister could clarify what support the department is giving this and other initiatives to deliver the sustainable development goals.

Secondly, we have made some early progress on reducing food waste at the UK level, and like others I commend WRAP’s work on this issue. Its Love Food Hate Waste campaign highlights not only the scandalous waste of food that is being binned, but also the unnecessary cost of the food that is wasted, averaging some £700 per household per year. Partly as a result of the campaign and with the help of celebrity campaigners—people have mentioned Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who are both great food campaigners—consumers have reduced their food waste by some 21% since 2007.

But it seems that the efforts of consumers, although I know that we have further to go on this, have not been matched by the food industry, which remains responsible for more than half of all food waste across the supply chain. Like others, we very much welcome WRAP’s Courtauld 2025 voluntary agreement, which will be launched in March this year. The aim is to bring together food suppliers, retailers and the hospitality sector to deliver the food waste sustainable development goals. While this is by its very nature a voluntary agreement, it would be helpful if the Minister could give us some insight into how the department will be putting some backbone into it and encouraging a maximum sign-up by the industry. In particular, we need suppliers and supermarkets to address the huge amount of waste generated upstream, starting with farm surplus, a point which has been referred to a number of times. For example, an estimated 20% to 40% of all UK fruit and vegetables are rejected by supermarkets before they even reach the shops. Meanwhile, farmers in developing countries such as Kenya are being forced to waste up to 50% of their produce. This cannot be right and it makes consumers very angry. It feels immoral to throw away good food while people queue at food banks or go hungry. Can the noble Lord clarify whether the department has any initiatives to specifically tackle farm-gate waste?

Finally, we need to address the scandal of unsold good surplus food being destroyed by supermarkets. Currently, only 2% of this food is redistributed to charities. As we have heard, the charity FareShare has done tremendous work to highlight this issue and persuade some supermarkets to think again.

FareShare estimates that if the UK diverted just 25% of supermarket food for distribution, it would save the voluntary sector some £250 million a year. In France, the Government voted to require supermarkets to give away unsold food that has reached its sell-by date. I pay tribute to my Commons colleague, Kerry McCarthy, who campaigned tirelessly on this issue but whose Food Waste (Reduction) Bill was not even granted a Second Reading this week. Do the Government support that Bill? Are they giving active consideration to measures similar to those adopted by the French Government?

At the end of the day, the solution to food waste lies in tackling food surplus at source, prevention through better ordering systems, redistribution of surplus to those who are hungry and, finally, diversion to livestock and recycling when all other options fail. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to confirm that he supports those principles.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for securing this important issue for debate. Indeed, I applaud the influential work of this House on food waste, including the 2014 report, Counting The Cost Of Food Waste: EU Food Waste Prevention. This debate today, with all the contributions to it, highlights your Lordships’ commitment to addressing this pressing matter. I believe that we are overwhelmingly all on the same page and I acknowledge all the campaigners mentioned today who, of course, give a greater awareness of this issue.

Food waste requires urgent action across the globe. As many of your Lordships mentioned, a third of the food that the world produces is wasted. This is a waste of food, water, energy, land and money, and—as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said—it is an issue for climate change as well. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, both raised an important issue about waste: that of fisheries. The fact is that for years now we have been wasting fish stocks at an absurd and immoral level. That is why we, the Government, seek to address this by implementing a discard ban. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that we will keep strong.

Half of all food wasted in the United Kingdom is produced in the home. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green—and his wife—took us through what I call the practical common sense that most households in this country should adhere to. The noble Lord looks very healthy on his regime, if I may say so. UK households waste 7 million tonnes and spend £2.5 billion every year on food that could have been eaten but ends up being thrown away. This amounts to £470 a year for the average household. I checked on this because the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend Lady Jenkin mentioned £700 a year. This is for UK households with children. Both figures come from the WRAP report. That shows that not only in households but in households with children we need to work with parents and schools. We need to do more on this matter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, also mentioned local authorities. We are all working on this and it is very important that WRAP will publish updated guidance in the near future to assist local authorities which want to introduce or improve their collection schemes. I will not go into waste collection today because we would have a considerable debate on that, but clearly this is an issue we all need to address.

The Government are helping households to waste less and save money through the Waste and Resources Action Programme—WRAP—campaign, Love Food Hate Waste. I, too, acknowledge the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Jenkin is carrying on the baton. It is very important that WRAP’s work is successful. It is about raising the profile of the campaign, with campaigns in 10 cities offering support to households to reduce the food they waste. This includes the development of practical skills through community cooking classes, guidance and initiatives to improve shopping habits and budgeting.

Retailers are also working directly with their customers. For example, the town of Swadlincote has been awarded £1 million from Sainsbury’s to invest in ways to halve household food waste. Sainsbury’s plans to spend £10 million over the next five years to promote similar schemes across the country—small beginnings, but very important. This approach has made a difference. UK annual household food waste has decreased by 15% between 2007 and 2012, which amounts to 1.3 million tonnes. The waste prevented would have filled 2,600 Olympic swimming pools.

Food is also wasted across the supply chain: 3.3 million tonnes in manufacturing, 0.2 million tonnes in food retail and 0.9 million tonnes in the hospitality sector. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, is absolutely right about dates. Defra and FSA published date marking guidance in 2011 to help ensure that dates are applied consistently. Use by labels should be used only where the safety of food cannot be guaranteed after that date. Most other foods should have a best before date only to indicate when the food is no longer at its best but is still safe to eat. We are seeing date markings to meet guidance. The noble Lord made a valuable point and we should all be mindful of it.

The Government have been working with retailers through WRAP to reduce food waste through the voluntary Courtauld commitment. Signatories reported a reduction of 7.4% in supply chain waste between 2009 and 2012, with interim results showing a further 3.2% reduction by 2014. The Courtauld commitment encourages action in line with waste hierarchy. It was very helpful that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, explained that hierarchy.

It is clear that the production of surplus food should be minimised. However, when good food is left unsold, it should be distributed to feed people in need. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that the Government and industry are working together to ensure that more surplus food is redistributed to people before being put to any other use. Signatories to the Courtauld commitment have reported a 74% increase in the level of food redistributed between 2012 and 2014 which would otherwise have gone to waste. We welcome the actions that organisations such as FareShare and Company Shop are taking to ensure that good quality surplus food gets to people in need. We encourage the food industry to forge closer links with redistribution charities, and support the action and public commitment on redistribution made by all retailers. For example—my noble friend may have mentioned this—Morrisons has recently announced that unsold safe food will go to local community organisations from early this year.

The voluntary approach is delivering results, but we want to do more. Following the Secretary of State’s meeting last year, a working group is driving forward work to waste less and redistribute more. The group is developing a partnership model to provide a consistent framework for providers and recipients of surplus food to reach agreement on working together. WRAP has also commissioned research which will identify where and why waste and surpluses occur in the supply chain. This will help industry to take appropriate action to increase waste prevention and assist redistribution.

There will always, I fear, be some unavoidable food waste. That is why the anaerobic digestion strategy is in place to reduce the amount of organic material going to landfill. My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury was absolutely right to mention anaerobic digestion. If he wanted to raise with me more privately where the producer was proposing to take the landfill, I would be prepared to take that up, because it is terribly important that we ensure that landfill is the very last option.

By 2014, retailers reduced the proportion of waste sent to landfill to 7%, down from 43% in only 2005. Under the Courtauld commitment, WRAP has also worked with supermarkets and consumers to support acceptance of the use of imperfect fruit and vegetables. My noble friends Lady Byford and Lady Jenkin and other noble Lords mentioned this matter. We welcome the action by supermarkets to sell a greater range of produce in stores. For example, in January 2015, Asda began trialling the sale of misshapen fruit and vegetables at reduced prices. This trial has now been rolled out to 25 stores and covers a wider range of product. Asda plans to increase the range further in 2016. This is a very good example of what should be done much more widely. The fruit and vegetables taste just as good. I assure noble Lords that my misshapen parsnips taste very good indeed.

The UK is at the forefront in tackling food waste internationally. We acknowledge WRAP’s work over the past decade, which many across the world want to replicate. Liz Goodwin, WRAP’s CEO is one of the 30 champions in the new UN coalition chaired by Dave Lewis, group chief executive of Tesco, which aims to accelerate progress towards meeting the new UN target to halve per capita food waste by 2030, to which my noble friend Lady Byford and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred.

Defra continues to fund WRAP—£13.5 million for this financial year—to help drive forward and deliver improved resource management and efficiency. This includes devoting approximately £4.1 million to take action to reduce food waste and improve sustainability across the supply chain. I emphasise Defra’s commitment to all this. We want to go further. That is why WRAP is now brokering a new agreement, Courthauld 2025. It is an ambitions farm-to-fork industry commitment—I am particularly mindful of what my noble friend Lady Byford said about from the farm—bringing the food industry together to make the food we produce and eat more sustainable and secure and to reduce waste even more. Pre-farm-gate waste—I mention this particularly as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to it—will be within the scope of the new farm agreement.

Significant progress has been made over the past decade, but we all want to do more. I am very conscious that there may be particular points that noble Lords have raised—

I enjoyed the Minister’s contribution very much, but he did not mention extending the Love Food Hate Waste campaign into schools.

I think I said at the beginning that that is something for education, but if I did not say it, I intended to say that this is issue that we wish to work on. I will raise it with officials and with WRAP. I apologise because it was in my notes to raise it.

This has been a very interesting and helpful debate. I am conscious that I may not have specifically answered some of the precise points that were raised in the time available. I would find it tremendously valuable, if noble Lords would be interested, if we continued these discussions and if noble Lords who are interested have meetings with officials and with WRAP. I started by saying that we are all on the same page. I do not think there is much difference between us. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. This has been a fascinating debate, and I think we have more work to do together.

1.58 pm.

Sitting suspended.