Tag: farm waste

The on-farm food waste mountain

25th Jul 19 by Martin Bowman, Policy and Campaigns Manager

Feedback reacts to WRAP’s announcement today that around 3.6 million tonnes of food is wasted annually on UK farms.

Today, WRAP have released a ground-breaking report, for the first time revealing estimates of the food wasted on UK farms. Including the 2 million tonnes of surplus (usually human-edible food used as animal feed), there is a total of 3.6 million tonnes, more than the food waste and surplus at manufacturing and retail level combined.

Farmers are frustrated

This confirms what Feedback have long been hearing from UK farmers. But it would be a mistake to blame farmers for this waste. Feedback’s Gleaning Network saves leftover food from UK farms for charity, and we regularly speak to farmers who are devastated to have to waste perfectly edible food that they’ve toiled long hours to grow. Why? Feedback’s report Farmers Talk Food Waste found that UK fruit and vegetable farmers were forced to waste 10-16% of their crop due to supermarket and middlemen practices – including rejections of food for being the wrong size and shape, encouraging systemic overproduction by punishing undersupply, low farm-gate prices which sometimes below the cost of harvest, and Unfair Trading Practices like last minute order cancellations. We need to support farmers by reforming these supermarket practices, to help them reduce costs and waste.

The problems of sugar, milk and meat

Some of the more surprising findings of WRAP’s report are the scale of food waste occurring in sectors outside fruit and vegetables. For instance, they find that the highest volumes of food waste by weight occur for sugar beet – 347,000 tonnes or 3.9% of production. Sugar is not only bad for the nation’s health and teeth, but it has hugely negative impacts on soil erosion and uses up more land than the rest of UK vegetable production combined – we’ll be releasing more on this soon through our sugar campaign. The report also finds that the 4th most wasted product is milk and the 6th is poultry. Much of this is as a result of animal diseases and contamination, so this is not necessarily edible to humans. However, given the huge environmental footprint of meat and need to slash UK meat production and consumption to stay within safe limits of climate change, it’s startling to see such large volumes wasted. See our campaign The Cow in the Room for more info.

Producing food which is never eaten is a vast waste of natural resources including land, water and soil at a time of environmental emergency – this presents a huge opportunity to liberate land and resources which are desperately needed for reforestation and growing sustainable food. A report commissioned by the Committee for Climate Change recently found that reducing food waste could save considerable carbon emissions and liberate 482,000 hectares of arable land and 459,000 hectares of grasslands – and their calculations did not include food wasted on farms, which could contribute even more. We now know that planting trees is one of the most important ways we have to prevent a climate crisis – so this liberated land presents great potential.

Up to 5,000,000 tonnes

But WRAP’s figure is still an estimate – mainly based on non-UK data and self-reporting by farmers which is notorious for underreporting food waste. Therefore, this may well be an under-estimate of the levels of waste – the data isn’t good enough to tell yet. WRAP’s report estimates that the reality is probably somewhere in between 1.9 and 5 million tonnes per year – if it was 5 million tonnes, it would be nearly as much edible food as is thrown away by consumers.

Throughout the EU, farm-level food waste is almost completely ignored, assumed to be minimal and unimportant due to a pervasive narrative that this only a problem in the Global South due to lack of storage and infrastructure. Feedback have been campaigning hard to persuade the EU to measure food waste on farms, but the Commission recently made the terrible decision to exclude almost all on-farm food waste from the compulsory food waste measurement EU countries will have to begin in 2020. But due to campaigning, a ray of light is that the Commission has now pledged to release funds for some pilot studies to measure agricultural food waste in more detail.

The reason that UK data is still so shaky is that the government has consistently cut funding for food waste measurement and prevention. WRAP originally estimated that they would have robust data ready by 2018, but with limited funding this deadline has drifted. Now we know the scale of the problem, we need the government to fund detailed measurement of on-farm food waste to go beyond estimates and generate accurate baselines from which to set targeted reduction of on-farm food waste – like for other sectors.

Going backwards

We also call on the government to renew the Groceries Code Adjudicator and extend their remit to protect indirect suppliers like farmers from Unfair Trading Practices like last-minute order cancellations which cause waste. This is particularly important in the face of the current Adjudicator Christine Tacon’s surprising advice that the UK move back towards a system where Unfair Trading Practices are self-regulated by the industry. The Groceries Code Supply of Practice was self-regulated by industry for years before the Adjudicator was introduced, and without an independent regulator with power to punish businesses for non-compliance, supermarkets predictably failed to self-enforce the Code. It is difficult to see why voluntary self-regulation would be any more effective now. The farming industry and NGOs campaigned hard for years to achieve the introduction of a regulator with teeth to fight Unfair Trading Practices, and this gain must not be reversed.

Finally, Feedback calls on supermarkets to relax cosmetic standards on their core product ranges, pay farmers a good price for their produce, stop punishing their suppliers in cases of undersupply, and flexibly market gluts of produce. WRAP’s figures show that a worrying amount of produce is still being wasted, despite the launch of wonky veg ranges – retailers need to use wonky veg ranges to test their consumers’ acceptance of lower cosmetic specs, and then relax cosmetic specs for their core product lines accordingly.

The fight against food waste on farms continues! Want to witness the food waste first hand? Click here to get involved in one of our gleaning days.

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Help us reveal the scale of Europe’s farm food waste

28th Mar 19 by Martin Bowman, Pig Idea Policy Officer and Stakeholder Coordinator

Tackling food waste on farms now has a deadline for action. Find out more about the problem of farm food waste and what you can do about it.

We have until the 4th April to stop the EU excluding the millions of tonnes of food wasted on farms from EU measurement and action. Martin Bowman, Feedback campaigner on farm food waste, explores why farms shouldn’t be sidelined – and how you can take action, in particular if you are an EU citizen outside the UK.

How much fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables which could have been eaten lie rotting in fields around the EU, or are ploughed back into the soil? According to Feedback’s research and experience working with farms, the answer can be enormous, yet so far EU governments have resisted steps to measure farm-level waste so it can be properly tackled.

WRAP recently estimated that the UK’s food waste on farms was a whopping 2.5 million tonnes of food, 20% of the food wasted in the country. But the UK, too, needs far better data if it wants to seriously tackle food waste on farms (currently it relies on informed estimates) – and whatever the UK’s future relationship with the EU, progress in Europe usually helps drives change in the UK.

Our hopes were raised last year when the EU agreed sweeping reforms to its waste legislation, with food waste policies introduced for the first time. A huge cross-European campaign called for the EU to create compulsory targets for EU countries to halve their food waste from farm to fork by 2030. Feedback worked with a coalition formed by This Is Rubbish of 67 groups from 18 EU countries and thousands of petition signatories to build momentum for EU action. But member states of the European Council blocked or watered down most of these measures. The Directive that was eventually agreed on was still a big step in the right direction – although it only called on EU countries to voluntarily commit to halve their food waste (and then, only at retail and consumer level), leaving it largely up to member states whether they take ambitious action or not. However, a significant breakthrough was the requirement on EU countries to measure and report their food waste.

Keeping it secret

Generally, whereas we know a lot about plastics and other recycling, food waste, where it occurs and what happens to it, has been shrouded in mystery. Now, from 2020 onwards, EU countries will be required to create robust data on their food waste levels in manufacturing, retail, catering and households sectors, shining a hugely useful light into the current darkness. Finally, we’ll know how much food is actually wasted, where and why.

Yet waste on farms is set to remain shrouded in darkness. The EU have just published their framework for EU countries to measure and report their food waste, and they have excluded in-field food waste. This is a disaster, given estimates put the proportion of EU food waste which occurs on farms at between 11% and 34% – between 10 and 47 million tonnes.

That’s a huge quantity of food – and the emissions, waste and soil fertility which went into producing it – which would be effectively sidelined from international action unless we convince the Commission to change track.

A problem of framing?

Again and again in the international literature on food waste, studies talk as if so-called “food loss” (a technical term for food waste at production level) is firstly only a problem in poorer countries, and secondly a problem which results solely from inadequate infrastructure like cool storage, which has technical solutions. This conveniently obscures that in rich countries there is a comparably large quantity of food waste on farms, and it is largely due to power relations between farmers and their buyers – retailers and middlemen. Feedback’s reports on UK farmers and on international farmers supplying Europe found evidence that farmers were being forced to waste food due to a mixture of cosmetic rejections of food for being the wrong size, shape or colour, unfair practices like last minute order cancellations, and fear of losing contracts in cases of undersupply leading to systemic overproduction and occasional price crashes. We’ve seen first hand through our Gleaning Network the truly stunning quantities of nutritious food that can be simply left in the field.

In short, the risks and costs of food waste are being dumped onto farmers – causing them a massive loss of money, time and resources wasting food they’ve toiled in the fields to grow. This food waste causes a huge loss of edible nutritious food – our UK study estimated that 2-4 million people could be fed their 5 a day of fruit and veg all year from the food wasted on UK farms annually. With estimates that England could run short of water in 25 years, British soil has only 100 harvests left unless degradation is reversed, and with the UN warning we have 12 years to avert disastrous levels of climate change, we need urgent action on food waste to avert catastrophe.

Time for change

Keeping Europe in the dark about farm food waste will harm EU farmers who’ll continue having the costs and risks of food waste dumped on them, prevent edible food getting to people who need it, and harm the environment. We can’t allow that to happen.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with Safe Food Advocacy Europe to ask people across Europe to respond to the Commission’s consultation, to urge them not to exclude farms from EU food waste measurement and reporting.

Please take action! (Particularly if you’re an EU resident outside the UK). Click here for our guide to completing the consultation!




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