Feedback responds to Defra’s new Resources and Waste Strategy

18th Dec 18 by Jessica Sinclair Taylor

Much to like and celebrate - and a few areas where we'd like to see the government go further to end the scandal of food waste.

Feedback welcomes the Government’s long-awaited update on their Waste and Resources Strategy, which was published today. We are very pleased to not only see Defra move towards a circular approach to deal with waste, but also adopting several Feedback recommendations on how to tackle food waste. This includes consulting on mandatory regulations for large food businesses to report transparently on their food waste and to commit to prevention targets, a move Feedback strongly supports, and reviewing best before date labels, one of our current campaigns.

However, we were disappointed that Defra will not include in their consultation strengthening the food use hierarchy through legislation. Currently businesses are required under existing waste regulations to follow the food use hierarchy and yet hundreds of thousands of tonnes of edible surplus food gets send to digesters every year.

Jessica Sinclair Taylor, Head of Policy and Communications at Feedback, said:

“As Defra acknowledge, progress on preventing the environmental tragedy of food waste has plateaued in recent years and we’re overdue a new injection of political energy towards turning this trend around. We’re delighted to see that the Secretary of State has acknowledged a need for new powers to match ambition on creating a circular approach to waste, including the option to require major food businesses to commit to food waste reduction targets. If we’re to meet the UN’s global goal of halving food waste by 2030, we will need to stop relying on businesses doing the right thing, and start requiring them to.”

Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy – our highlights

“Our determination to cut food waste has not been matched by progress, which in recent years has plateaued.”

Across the UK we waste around 10 million tonnes a year of food – and that’s before taking into account waste occurring on farms, a major area of Feedback research. 10 million plus tonnes isn’t just a lot of food: it’s an environmental and social tragedy, and one that we can address with the right political will and action.

“So far we have focused on food waste after the farm gate. But at the primary production stage of the supply chain there is also significant scope to prevent waste food.”

We celebrated Defra’s inclusion in the Agriculture Bill of a provision for powers to require farmers to monitor how much waste occurs at farm-level. We’re calling for retailers and other food businesses who buy farmed goods to take responsibility for waste their practices (such as requiring fresh produce to look a certain way) cause on farms.

“We will consult in 2019 on introducing regulations to make reporting mandatory for businesses of an appropriate size.”

This is heartening. Defra has long refused to consider regulation to make food waste reporting mandatory, and transparent business-level data on waste has been a central tenant of Feedback’s approach to ending the food waste scandal. We will be responding to the proposed consultation to strongly call for mandatory reporting, and mandatory targets to reduce and prevent waste – including in businesses’ supply chains.

“In the future we will work with the NHS Estates and Facilities Team at NHS Improvement to support the creation of a new ‘food standard’.”

Public procurement is a key area where Feedback has argued the government could be doing more to not only prevent waste, but also incentivise other key ingredients for a more sustainable food system, including local sourcing and encouraging less consumption of industrially produced meat and dairy.

“In 2019, we will review the current recommendation for most pre-packed uncut fresh produce to carry a ‘Best Before’ date.”

Feedback has long campaigned to remove ‘Best Before’ labels on fresh produce, with supermarket giant Tesco heeding our call in this year and removing date labels from over 100 fresh produce lines. We’ve been calling for other supermarkets to follow Tesco’s lead and hope Defra’s review will encourage the laggards over the line.

“Where existing legislation cannot match our ambitions, we will take new powers to strengthen it.”

This is important. Progress to date has clearly shown that voluntary action by businesses alone is not enough to topple the UK’s food waste mountain – new regulation will have an important role to play too.

And what’s missing?

Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is a good option for preventing unavoidable and inedible food waste from going to landfill – but we would like to see Defra paying more attention to the mis-aligned incentives supporting AD as a ‘green energy’, which may result in perfectly edible food being fed to digestors rather than people. Our campaign Indigestible will launch next year with more on this important issue.

Retailer responsibility for waste both in their supply chain and in their customers’ homes is largely ignored. While retailers don’t force anyone to throw food away needlessly, their well-refined sales tactics help create a culture of ‘over-purchase’, where we buy more than we need and end up with waste. We’re calling for retailers to take the first steps towards properly understanding their relationship with their customers’ food waste by paying for research which breaks down household level food waste based on people’s shopping habits – including where they shop.

The food use hierachy is an essential tool for managing food waste, and for preventing food from becoming waste in the first place. A simplified form is already enshrined in existing waste regulations, but data from those food businesses who do publish their food waste data shows that it isn’t strictly followed, with large quantities of edible food heading to AD. As well as new guidance, we’d like to see Defra strengthening existing regulations to ensure food businesses adhere to them.

Feeding inedible food waste to animals – in particular pigs – is a key element of the food use hierarchy and Feedback research published earlier this year showed that it can be done safely. Defra now needs to commit to scoping how this planet-saving approach to producing ‘better’ meat could work in practice.

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