Supermarkets should pick food banks over AD, say peers

Supermarkets should redistribute unsold food to food banks rather than sending it to be recycled via anaerobic digestion (AD), a House of Lords committee has said.

A report published yesterday (6 April) by the House of Lords European Union Committee, entitled ‘Counting the Cost of Food Waste’, said it was “morally repugnant” that at least 90m tonnes of food were dumped each year in the EU, including 15m in Britain.

It also suggested that supermarkets should be urged to scrap buy-one-get-one-free deals to help prevent food waste.

The Committee calls for Government action to encourage retailers to redistribute unsold food, where safe, for human and animal consumption rather than to be recycled via anaerobic digestion.

Witnesses giving evidence to the report, including the waste management industry, were clear that the industry should respect the waste hierarchy, where they prioritised food waste prevention followed by redistribution to humans and animals wherever possible.

The report stated that witnesses were concerned “that economic drivers tend to distort the hierarchy, with a result that there are incentives directed towards lower stages of the hierarchy, including both AD and in-vessel composting (IVC), rather than redistribution”.

According to the report, supermarket Waitrose acknowledged that there is a clear temptation, on economic grounds to prioritise energy recovery over redistribution, although Waitrose itself is supportive of redistribution, as it prefers to have “food used as food”.

The Lords suggested that VAT rates could be amended and tax breaks offered to encourage supermarkets to donate edible unsold food to food banks rather sending it to be composted.

They also recommend that the European Commission undertakes an assessment of fiscal measures that might be adopted to encourage food redistribution, with a view to possible adoption by Member States and the UK Government should “undertake their own assessment of how they might further promote the redistribution of food to humans by way of fiscal measures”.

However, the Lords also acknowledged that energy and nutrient recovery “will remain essential components of food waste management as preferred options to disposal”.

Commenting on the report, chair of the Committee Baroness Scott of Needham Market said: “Food waste in the EU and the UK is clearly a huge issue. Not only is it morally repugnant, but it has serious economic and environmental implications. The fact that 90m tonnes of food is wasted across the EU each year shows the extent of the problem and explains why we are calling for urgent action.

“Globally, consumers in industrialised nations waste up to 222m tonnes of food a year, which is equivalent to nearly the entire level of net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.

“We cannot allow the complexity of the issues around defining and monitoring food waste to delay action any further. We are calling on the new European Commission, which will be appointed in November this year, to publish a five year strategy for reducing food waste across the EU, and to do so within six months of taking office.

“The UK Government has a role to play in encouraging cooperation throughout the supply chain. They can also consider whether tax incentives might be used to encourage retailers to ensure unsold food that is still fit for human consumption is actually eaten by people, for example by working with food banks, rather than sent to compost or for energy recovery, or even landfill, as is often the case at present.”

Liz Gyekye

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