SUPERMARKETS TRY TO PASS THE BLAME FOR FOOD WASTE
The British Retail Consortium released figures today claiming that in 2013 “only 1.3 per cent of all food waste [in the UK] came from the grocery retail industry”. This is misleading.
The statement distracts from the significant role retailer policies play in creating waste across their supply chains by offloading their waste onto their suppliers.
At the same time, the BRC data misleadingly puts a disproportionate blame on consumers as it includes inedible material such as tea bags, banana skins and chicken bones.
Most importantly, the BRC figures published today ignore many of the biggest sources of food waste in the industry supply chain. The waste of food on farms and distribution centres has not been measured and neither is the waste of edible offal in slaughterhouses. Most damningly, all food wasted overseas in the UK supermarkets’ supply chains is left off the books, in a country where the majority of food (net, by value) is imported. The mountains of misshapen bananas, crooked carrots and trimmed beans wasted as a result of supermarket policies are all ignored by this data [photos of this waste available on request]. It is only by distorting the data that supermarkets can claim they are responsible for just 1.3% of food waste.
Through years of research and campaigning on food waste and via our Gleaning Network UK campaign, which organises groups of volunteers to save food from going to waste on farms and donates it to food redistribution charities, we have witnessed first hand farmers on the sharp end of supermarket policies.
Cosmetic standards imposed by retailers lead to fruit and vegetables of the “wrong” size and shape being wasted in huge quantities despite there being no problem in quality or taste and despite increasing evidence that consumers would buy misshapen fruit and veg. Jamie Oliver’s recent television series, made with the help of the Gleaning Network and featuring it in last week’s episode, gives lie to the idea that supermarkets are not responsible for food waste in their supply chains.
Farmers also complain about having to systematically overproduce to ensure they are not penalised for not meeting supermarket orders. Supermarkets change their orders at the last minute, leaving waste on their suppliers’ hands.
The BRC data also lacks transparency. Tesco has already published third-party audited data on the amount of food they waste in their own operations in addition to some limited supply chain level waste data. This is the kind of granular detail required to help implement solutions, such as charitable food redistribution. The BRC data indicates that only a tiny fraction of their unsold food is currently being donated. All of the other major retailers should rise to the challenge set by Tesco and raise the stakes. They need to publish their third party audited food waste data individually, in their own operations and in their supply chains, if they want to claim that they are serious about food waste and committed to transparency.
The BRC finally states that retailers have reduced their food waste by 10% since 2007. Whilst this might sound like an achievement to some, it is inadequate when compared to the 21% reduction achieved by UK households in the same period. It is high time that retailers stepped up their game to match the efforts made by UK households that they so often blame for being the main culprits on food waste.
Feedback welcomes recent supermarket initiatives to reduce food waste, but challenges retailers to acknowledge the role they have in causing waste up and down the supply chain, and take responsibility for it accordingly– for instance, by relaxing their cosmetic standards; guaranteeing farmers a percentage of their crop will be purchased; and helping their suppliers find secondary markets for their surplus so that this food is consumed while it’s still fresh rather than wasted.
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