Today’s announcement of the third phase of the Courtauld Commitment, the UK’s voluntary framework for addressing waste in the food industry, is a welcome step in the fight against food waste in the UK, committing the industry to reducing its food waste by 20% by 2025. The announcement comes after the United Nations established its new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which included a target of halving food waste by 2030.
Whilst the current food waste reduction commitment does not include the colossal amounts of food wasted on UK farms, Courtauld 2025 does include a plan to work on the measurement of pre-farmgate food waste by 2018. Having campaigned on the issue of farm level food waste since 2009, Feedback welcomes this step but more work needs to be done to address waste across the supply chain that the UK’s retailers are ultimately responsible for.
It is clear that when it comes to food waste citizens are fed up with supermarkets’ routine mistreatment of their suppliers and their disregard for ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables. Over a million people have signed Feedback’s petition calling on national action plans to force supermarkets to reduce their food waste by redistributing surplus food, relaxing cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables and treating their suppliers more fairly.
UK households have also been leading the way in reducing waste and have shown just how much is possible, having achieved a 21% reduction in food waste in just seven years between 2007 and 2014. Today’s commitment is a welcome starting point for the industry to start matching this ambition and respond to the overwhelming public demand for action to end waste across our food system.
To really start addressing food waste in their supply chains, retailers must relax cosmetic specifications to ensure more ‘imperfect’ fruit and vegetables reach consumers and that all food grown for them finds a market. They must also end unfair trading practices – cancelling or modifying orders or agreements at the last minute without compensation and at the expense of the farmer. Retailers can achieve this on a voluntary basis by improving forecasting and communications with their suppliers; offering them guaranteed prices and volumes or whole crop purchasing; and stop using cosmetic specifications as an excuse for last minute changes in orders. The Groceries Code Adjudicator has the power to investigate such practices and even fine supermarkets that are found to break competition law by treating their suppliers unfairly.
Today’s Courtauld Commitment announcement is a strong statement of intent from the food industry with a welcome emphasis on collaboration. But there is clearly plenty of room for competition to raise the ambition for action against food waste. Retailers continue to report their food waste figures in an untransparent way by publishing one aggregate food waste figure for the whole industry. However, Tesco – one of the Commitment’s signatories – responded to pressure by Feedback’s campaigning by publishing third party audited figures of how much food it wastes in its UK operations as well as identifying food waste hot spots in its supply chain. Crucially, other retailers should follow suit and openly publish how much food they individually waste so they can be held accountable to public scrutiny and begin a race to the top to prove which supermarket is least wasteful.
The UK wastes more food than any other country in Europe but it’s also leading the way working on the solutions to tackle the problem. The rest of the world will be looking to the UK as a leader to learn from its lessons in dealing with waste to achieve the SDG goal of halving food waste by 2030. It is therefore crucial that action in the UK is up to the task and that the industry accountable to its promises.