Food waste needs celebrity touch to create public appetite
Action to tackle food waste could depend on whether the issue can attract the same profile as campaigns such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's on fish discards.
During an inquiry in the House of Lords this morning, peers likened the practice of throwing fish back into the sea to ploughing crops back into the ground. In fact, food waste is seen as a "quantum higher" in terms of economic and environmental costs.
Fish discards received worldwide media and political attention thanks to the high-profile Fish Fight campaign run by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Members of the EU sub-committee on agriculture, fisheries , environment and energy asked Defra officials whether there would be "more political drive" to take action on the 15 million of tonnes of UK food waste if there was a similar public outcry.
Colin Church, the department's director of resources, atmosphere and sustainability, said the issues around fish discards seem to be "inherently more emotive" compared with food waste.
Church said raising awareness of the food wasted at farm level is not something that his team would spend huge efforts raising awareness of.
"I don't think the public will react in the same visceral way as they did for discards. I'm not sure there would be much of a public outcry [to food waste]."
In a report last month, WRAP calculated that the UK grocery supply chain produces 6.5Mt of waste. This week the issue has received widespread media attention on the back of figures published by Tesco, which revealed that 32% of food is wasted along its 'value chain'.
Tesco said it was working with producers to cut waste on farms. The supermarket also wants to help its customers waste less, and announced plans to cut back on multibuy promotions for some fresh produce.
Other retailers have also implemented plans to cut food waste, with Sainsbury's also altering promotions and portion sizes. A spokeswoman confirmed that none of the supermarket's food waste goes to landfill.
But with the European Commission having proposed targets to halve edible food waste by 2020, the Lords committee is investigating whether mandatory targets are needed to curb food waste.
Church and his colleagues at Defra continued to reiterate that action by retailers, as well as the progress made through voluntary agreements such as the Courtauld Commitment, are "working well". They suggested that targets would be difficult to implement and police, especially across Europe where Member States would all be starting from different levels.
Defra head of food waste Laura Denison highlighted that household food waste has been cut 13% since 2006 while businesses have cut food and packaging waste by 10%.
Church added that the work of the Courtauld Commitment is something that the department should be "quite proud of". He said: "Supermarkets are competitive so to give them the space to work together for the common good seems incredibly powerful."
Last month, the UK's Global Food Security programme claimed that retailer standards can "reject up to 40% of edible produce". Earlier this year, a report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers also suggested that 30% of the UK vegetable crop is never harvested.