Eat, Drink & BOGOF

ChrisAs CIWM’s Chris Murphy says, food waste isn’t a new subject for us to focus on, but a new House of Lords EU Committee report has given us new ideas to ponder, which is exactly what he has been doing …


Food waste, a subject on which neither myself nor the Journal or this website has been silent in recent months, has yet again emerged as a talking point, this time in a European context.

The Environment Sub-Committee of the House of Lords EU Committee last month released its report, Counting the Cost of Food Waste: EU Food Waste Prevention. It called for urgent action on food waste in Europe, highlighting the 90m tonnes of food wasted across Europe each year. We have seen the statistics for food waste in the UK previously in statements from WRAP throughout the course of the “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign but, when the numbers are aggregated for the EU it has greater impact, whether represented in tonnes lost, carbon footprint or financial loss.

The urgent action called for by the Lords Committee is that when the European Commission is newly installed later this year it publishes, within six months, a five-year strategy on food waste prevention. As it is the EU Committee I suppose it was inevitable that it would call on the Commission to do something, but I would have thought that six months to publish a strategy is tight for even the most flexible and responsive of organisations but, for one as bureaucratic as the Commission, it is optimistically ambitious.

Packaging For Retail

The second strand of the report is aimed at retailers, and in particular the big supermarkets, to reduce food waste both in its production and packaging for retail and the way it is sold to consumers. It wants the retailers to work harder with food producers to ensure that perfectly edible food is not wasted because of external issues such as logistics, transport and contracts. Similarly at the other end of the fork to plate equation they want retailers to stop the “buy one get one free” (BOGOF) offers that result in food waste in the home.

I’m no retail expert, but I do know the hold that the big supermarkets have on us all. Sixty percent of all retail spend is in supermarkets and when the biggest of them recently announced reduced profits, the response was a “gloves off” war on sales. Given that sort of competitive environment I think it unlikely that they will look kindly on suggestions that they change their sales technique, no matter how well intentioned they might be.

Where I am one with the Committee, however, is in its support for the food use hierarchy, whereby unsold food – where still edible – goes for human consumption as a priority, then for animal consumption and only finally is recycled through composting or anaerobic digestion. There is an obvious caveat in that any food waste fed to animals must be closely controlled and comply with regulations. It suggests that VAT rates could be amended and tax breaks offered to encourage supermarkets to donate edible food to food banks. It is my understanding that VAT is a “European” issue, so calling for such a change to be included in a EU food waste strategy makes sense.

I have great sympathy for some of the other proposals, including a link to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to reduce on-farm food waste and the introduction of smarter packaging and labelling, which too many people rely on as an indication of edibility, rather than their senses. I applaud the ambition of this report in shining a light on this global issue, which we can all help to resolve, but simply wonder how easy will it be to change immovable objects such as major retailing, VAT policy and the CAP?


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