Supermarkets blamed for astronomical food waste

The House of Lords EU Committee has produced a report which argues supermarkets and food retailers must be held responsible for the "morally repugnant" levels of waste produced annually in the UK.

An inquiry found that industrialised countries around the world waste a combined amount of 222 million tonnes of food a year, which shockingly is almost the same amount as is produced in total in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the report, supermarkets are much to blame for this waste but are repeatedly passing it on to both producers and consumers. The big supermarket chains make unfair agreements with farmers and offer enticing buy-one-get-one-free offers which encourage shoppers to purchase more than they really need.

The report concludes that British food retailers must assume liability for their role in producing waste, noting that they have the ability to "influence the behaviour of producers, manufacturers and consumers but, thus far, have failed to take their responsibilities sufficiently seriously".

The report adds: "It is clear that retailers must assume a far greater responsibility for the prevention of food waste in the home. Retailers must ensure that incentives and promotions offered to consumers do not transfer waste from the store to the household."

It also condemns behaviour such as cancelling orders for produce that has already been grown, or only accepting 'perfect' looking fruits and vegetables, which merely offsets waste onto already struggling farmers.

"At the moment, [retailers] are causing this waste and yet it doesn't show up on their statistics," explained the chairwoman of the committee, Baroness Scott of Needham Market, to The Independent on Sunday.

"You can look at raw data and say, 'Well, actually the supermarkets are doing pretty well,' but it's when you start to see what's happening with the food that you get a different picture."

The EU committee has thus highlighted the importance of combating food waste at all levels, and is urging the implementation of a long-term strategy to deal with the growing issue. Experts currently fear that without an effective system, the EU will continue to produce an excessive amount of waste.

"Food waste in the EU and the UK is clearly a huge issue. Not only is it morally repugnant, but it has serious economic and environmental implications," says Baroness Scott.

"We cannot allow the complexity of the issues around defining and monitoring food waste to delay action any further.

"We are calling on the new European Commission, which will be appointed in November this year, to publish a five year strategy for reducing food waste across the EU, and to do so within six months of taking office."

Despite these harrowing statistics, however, some organisations are choosing to buck the wasteful trend. One such team is made up of those involved in The Real Junkfood Project in Leeds, which serves breakfast and dinner every day using only food offered for free by supermarkets, restaurants and cafes that would otherwise be destined for landfill.

Chef Adam Smith opened the cafe in December, and so far it has been a roaring success. Customers pay only what they can afford, or what they feel the meal is worth, and a foodbank is now also operating out of the premises.

"The pay as you feel concept makes people think about what is on offer and what they think it is worth. We like to think if somebody has a little more money they might pay a little more, but if a person did not have the means to pay we are not going to not serve them, if they are hungry we are going to give them food," explains Connor Walsh, one of the directors of the cafe.

"Sometimes if customers don't have money they will help out for a couple of hours, invest some of their time. We want to make use of all this food that is being needlessly wasted over society. We want to provide healthy meals for people who are food insecure."

As the UK gets to grips with the growing issue of food poverty, programmes such as this are sure to be welcomed. Former Labour MP Frank Field and Rev Tim Thornton, the Bishop of Truro, are currently co-chairing an inquiry into food poverty and the increased demand for foodbanks in the UK. They are expected to release a report on their findings later this year.