Recession slashes food waste, but poorer diet results
Food waste generated by households has dropped significantly since the UK went into recession, but food poverty appears to be on the rise according to latest research.
A report launched yesterday (26 July) by campaign group Waste Watch examined how economic factors are impacting on the UK's diet and the environment. It found that since 2008, there has been a 13% drop in food waste with overall food purchasing also in decline.
Head of Waste Watch Tim Burns said that since coming into recession, the economics of food have been changing.
"The environmental and the economic context in which we consume food is having potential changes on the way we eat food and the health and environmental implications of that," he maintained.
According to Burns, food price increases and a decline in household disposable income had left consumers with three choices when it came to purchasing food.
They could buy the same products but spend more money on them, trade down by switching to cheaper supermarket own-brand products and/or purchase less expensive alternatives, or buy less overall. The knock-on effect was that consumers appeared to be buying less and wasting less.
"Taken overall, food purchasing has declined by 2.6% and household food waste has declined by 13%, so some quite significant changes appear to be taking place," he said.
He added that because food was resource-intensive to grow, the decline in food purchasing and food waste were clear positives. However, Burns maintained that it was important to look at the "bigger picture", starting with the production of food.
"The food system has been incredibly successful in doing two key things - making food cheaper and increasing the choice," he argued. "That's not just choice in the supermarket, but also making food ubiquitous to society."
But the current food system has also increased food poverty and diet-related diseases, he said, and is impacting negatively on land, biodiversity, fish stocks and other natural resources.
The study suggests that food poverty is on the rise in deprived communities and families are ditching healthier food options for cheaper processed foods, high in fat and sugar. Worryingly, consumption of five-a-day produce also appears to be in decline in deprived families.
Waste Watch, which merged with Keep Britain Tidy in 2011, is calling on the Government to take a lead in developing a national food policy that takes a joined-up approach.
"It's time for Government to step in and work with experts in both public health and the environment to create a food strategy that addresses both health and environmental concerns whilst making the UK food system more resilient to external shocks," Burns maintained.
"Obesity is predicted to cost the UK £21.5bn each year by 2025, the number of food banks is rising steeply and our industrial food system is impacting on land, biodiversity, fish stocks and other natural resources."