Food Waste Reduction Bill: What’s Next?

Kerry McCarthyWith the Food Waste (Reduction) Bill due to “fall” at the end of this Parliamentary session, Kerry McCarthy MP, Labour MP for Bristol East and Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs urges food industry partners to sign up to Courtauld 2025… 

Kerry visiting food distribution charity, FareShare
Kerry visiting food distribution charity, FareShare

In September last year, I introduced a Food Waste (Reduction) Bill, which revived and amended draft legislation I introduced back in 2012.

Like so many people, I feel the immense scale of food wasted is totally scandalous. But more than that, it was clear that the industry’s voluntary efforts to reduce its own waste were failing to match very significant reduction efforts by households.

The Bill unfortunately didn’t receive the backing of Government to proceed and will now “fall” at the end of this Parliamentary session. WRAP has, in the meantime, launched Courtauld 2025 (C2025), which does mark a serious departure from previous phases of this voluntary agreement by the food industry. In particular, it acknowledges the responsibility of supermarkets for food wasted upstream and it includes, for the first time, food wasted on farms in reduction efforts.

“The Bill unfortunately didn’t receive the backing of Government to proceed and will now “fall” at the end of this Parliamentary session”

However, I would have liked to see much more ambitious targets set – to deliver a 30% reduction by 2025 against 2016 baselines – and a regulatory back-up plan for enforcing these targets if they aren’t delivered. The Government’s public aversion to any and all regulation means that voluntary schemes often lack the teeth required to drive action at the pace we need – a problem frequently cited by people involved in them and trying to encourage greater ambition.

I believe more ambitious targets are achievable. The Scottish Parliament has set a similar target of 33% reductions by 2025 against 2013 baselines, which is roughly equivalent. A new study by Anthesis for WRAP should give a sense of what is feasible in terms of reduction. But I believe there should, at the very least, be a review mechanism to increase our ambition over time.

It is also a missed opportunity that signatories will continue to report their food waste as an aggregate figure. My Bill would have required large supermarkets and food manufacturers and distributors to measure and transparently report their food waste throughout the supply chain, including on farms so we could see what’s wasted and where, and how well individual supermarkets and manufacturers are reducing their waste.

Regulatory Back Up

I hope retailers will now voluntarily follow Tesco’s lead and openly publish how much they individually waste – from farm, to production, through to retail – and come up with credible plans for reducing that waste. It’s vital that retailers relax their strict cosmetic standards for produce free from visual imperfections, and end unfair business practices that cause food waste upstream, such as cancelling orders at the last minute without compensation.

“My Food Waste (Reduction) Bill remains on the table as a much-needed regulatory back-up plan if C2025 fails to deliver”

Regulation would make Tesco’s supply chain hot-spots an industry standard, helping to drive resource efficiencies – and savings – within those businesses too. In a Commons debate on food waste I led last year, the Defra Minister, Rory Stewart, said he was persuaded of the arguments for transparent reporting by individual supermarkets and manufacturers, so it’s disappointing this didn’t make its way into the final agreement. My Bill would have ensured a level playing field, especially for those companies that are achieving significant reductions, to ensure no one would have a competitive advantage from not taking action.

It also looks as though manufacturers are still under-represented among signatories. When around a quarter of all food wasted is within the manufacturing sector, but we still don’t know how much of it is avoidable, this part of the supply chain needs to step up and play its part in reduction efforts. At present it remains cheaper for food manufacturers to dispose of good food via anaerobic digestion rather than to provide it for redistribution to charities. The Government needs to acknowledge and review these differences in cost to ensure much more good surplus food is used to feed people and not bins.

I would urge more food industry partners to sign up to Courtauld 2025, which marks a very significant step forward, and to push for greater ambition. While voluntary approaches can be effective in meeting environmental objectives, I am still concerned by the lack of incentives for signatories to meet reduction targets, without the credible threat of legislation. Indeed, this was partly conceded by the Defra Minister responsible for food waste, Rory Stewart MP, when he said at an event I organised for the first reading of my Bill that “one of the reasons we have made so much progress is the threat of legislative action”. So my Food Waste (Reduction) Bill remains on the table as a much-needed regulatory back-up plan if C2025 fails to deliver.

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