Tesco and WWF call for mandatory farm food waste reporting

Image: WWF/Tesco

The supermarket and the NGO have jointly published a report revealing the scale of the UK’s on-farm food waste mountain and a roadmap laying out key policy and industry interventions to reduce the scale of the problem. The report emphasises how food waste is a climate problem, with on-farm food waste generating 10% of the UK agriculture sector’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, and with food waste globally accountable for at least 8% of annual emissions according to to WRAP. Food waste is also a social problem, with the Government facing calls to improve food redistribution to those who need it most amid the cost-of-living crisis. Around seven million UK residents currently struggle with food poverty or food insecurity, Fareshare has stated previously.

According to the report, almost three million tonnes of edible food is wasted on UK farms each year. While this is far less food than is wasted at the consumer level (in homes, restaurants, and so on), this is still a waste of £1.8bn of value and 6.9 billion meals each year. Each day, this is equivalent to 18 million meals. Wasted food which is not edible is a smaller problem, with 0.4 million tonnes of waste accounted for in this manner in the report.

The report estimates that around half (48%) of the food wasted on farms is wasted pre-harvest. In most cases, it is typically left on fields because farmers do not believe it will meet standards, including standards on aesthetics. Changing standards and/or allowing more avenues for farmers to sell products that do not meet aesthetic requirements (shape, size, and so on) are listed in the report as policy changes that would reduce waste.

All in all, however, the report takes the argument that you cannot manage what you cannot measure. It calls on Ministers to implement a reporting mandate for on-farm waste, starting with large and medium post-farm gate businesses in 2023, and then large and medium farms in 2024. This could be coupled with a binding target for businesses to halve food waste ‘from farm to fork’.

This target is already being worked towards by the 260+ businesses participating in WRAP’s landmark food waste reduction roadmap. The roadmap first launched in 2018 and updated guidance was provided in 2020. Food manufacturers account for the vast majority of the signatories.

Noted in the report is the need for farmers to be supported financially to reduce food waste. It calls for the UK Government, as well as the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland, to consider including food waste reporting and reduction in their forthcoming post-Brexit subsidy schemes. The UK Government is set to shortly publish proposals for altering its range of farmer subsidy schemes, with some concerned that the reported updated version would do precious little to conserve or restore the environment. These concerns were voiced about decisions made under Liz Truss; time will tell whether Sunak presses ahead in the same vein of thought.

The report calls on farmers already working to measure, report on, and reduce, food waste to share their learnings with the sector via case studies. Tesco is stating that it already has 107 farms doing this. The document also advocates for the appointment of ‘food waste champions’ by farmers – workers tasked with heading up action on this issue and sharing learnings with colleagues.

Supporting Tesco and WWF with the roadmap are Sainsbury’s, the Co-op, Red Tractor, the Sustainable Food Trust, Leaf, WRAP and IGD.

“Given the cascade of benefits that tackling food waste on farms could bring – from bolstering our food security to helping address the climate crisis – UK Government and businesses across the food sector must take urgent action to support farmers in slashing food loss and waste on farms, as part of wider efforts to drive down waste across the food system,” said WWF’s executive director of advocacy and campaigns Kate Norgrove.

“At the same time, Ministers must reaffirm the Government’s commitment to incentives that will drive a UK-wide shift to nature-friendly farming, helping to futureproof our food system and bring our world back to life.”

The new UK Food Minister, Mark Spencer, has been in the headlines today (31 October) for what has widely been regarded as something of a disastrous round of interviews on Sky News of BBC Breakfast. Speaking about reports of Truss’s phone being hacked, Spencer joked on Sky News that he and his wife have acknowledged that a “little man in China” could be listening in. On the BBC, he stated that sewage discharges in coastal communities “need to be stopped” but placed the blame on individuals not checking their drains, particularly after home extensions.

Tesco was the UK’s first supermarket to report on levels of waste from its operations and has, since making that move in 2013, called on other retailers to follow suit, and for a national mandate on this kind of reporting. The business recently pulled forward a target for reducing operational food waste against a 2016-17 baseline from 2035 to 2030.

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