Food Waste and Food Distribution — [Valerie Vaz in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 16 April 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jo Gideon Jo Gideon Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent Central 9:30, 16 April 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered food waste and food distribution.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. Let me begin by reflecting on our connection to food. We all have cherished memories of key moments in our lives, sharing food with family, friends and neighbours at birthdays, weddings and celebration dinners. Food is the thread that weaves together the fabric of our families, communities and society. It is a universal language spoken and understood by all, regardless of background and belief. It is a remedy for loneliness. In a world in which technology disconnects us, food has the power to bring us together. For thousands of years, in the oldest cities on our planet, people have lived their lives in courtyards, in squares, on street corners and in cafés, tea houses and local shops, and they have shopped, shared gossip and shared food.

Knowing how we value food, it is an outrage that 4.6 million tonnes of edible food goes to waste every year, which is enough to feed everyone in the country for almost two months. That is just edible food waste, including food waste at the farm gate. We throw away more than 11 million tonnes of food each year, which is valued at £20.8 billion. The overall land use associated with food wasted on UK farms alone amounts to almost the size of Wales.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The hon. Lady is setting out the parameters of the debate well. On the farm gate issue, a lot of the waste is driven by consumer choice and by products on the shelf not looking acceptable to supermarkets or people. Does she agree that we need to look at more innovative approaches, such as that of Growers Garden in Cupar in my constituency, which takes the 20% of wonky vegetables and makes them into crisps? It is also a much healthier option than potato crisps.

Photo of Jo Gideon Jo Gideon Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I will come on to wonky veg, which is a particular passion of mine.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I congratulate the hon. Member on securing the debate. Does she agree that some of the larger supermarkets are doing something to reduce the extent of food waste, but much more could be done to target hard-to-reach communities and food banks, where much more of the edible food waste could be put to much better use?

Photo of Jo Gideon Jo Gideon Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

I absolutely agree. I will come on to that point, too.

By eliminating avoidable food waste, the average four-person household could save about £1,000 each year. Worldwide, about a third of all food produced is lost or wasted. That contributes to between 8% and 10% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind the US and China, accounting for more than four times the amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced by the world’s aviation industry.

Food waste is a social, financial and environmental issue. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working closely with WRAP—the waste and resources action programme—and industry to meet the Government’s Courtauld commitment to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. Policy interventions are essential. We have reached the point at which the early adopters have taken up the cause, and measures are required to encourage action from the late majority. At the supply end of the food chain, retailers and manufacturer practices can have a significant impact on household waste.

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Conservative, Ynys Môn

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Will she join me in thanking volunteers, such as the wonderful Bethan Davies, who work with Tesco in Holyhead and other local supermarkets to pick up surplus food, and the community champions Roy Fyles, David Coulson and others at the Anglesey food bank, who ensure that surplus food is not wasted but redistributed across Ynys Môn to those in need?

Photo of Jo Gideon Jo Gideon Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

Yes, I congratulate the people my hon. Friend has identified. There are people and organisations in all our constituencies doing fabulous work in this space, and I would like to give a shout-out to them all.

Let me go back to retailers and things that could be helpful, such as changes to packaging, date labelling and multi-buy offers. The biggest reason for household waste in 2022 was that food was not used on time as it was past the date on the label, so we must improve our date labelling and remove unnecessary use-by stickers on fresh produce. Selling more fruit and veg uncut and free from packaging also prolongs shelf life and enables customers to buy only what they need, with the additional benefit of reducing packaging waste.

Guardians of Grub is WRAP’s food waste reduction campaign to tackle the £3 billion of food that is thrown away at hospitality and food service outlets. It explains that, on average, 18% of the food purchased by the UK hospitality and food service sector is being thrown away. Indeed, I am often concerned about the levels of food waste at catered events here in the House.

Quantifying the cost of food waste on the environment is particularly challenging, as the economic cost of climate change is highly contested, but it is clear that when it is left to decompose in landfill, food waste releases methane—a potent greenhouse gas that drives climate change—into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by an estimated 1.25 million tonnes per year if all local authorities collected household food waste separately to send to an anaerobic digester. Despite that, more than half of councils do not collect food waste.

I am therefore grateful that the Government have committed to proposals that councils must arrange a weekly collection of food waste. Introducing a separate collection redirects food waste away from landfill and towards recycling and reduction. It was announced in the net zero strategy that £295 million of capital funding was being brought forward to allow local authorities to prepare to implement the new weekly separate food waste collection from all households. Will the Minister clarify how councils will be expected to finance that new waste stream?

Food waste occurs throughout the food supply chain. Although it is a significant problem at the post-retail end of the chain, a large degree of wastage is documented at the start of the chain, at the farm gate. A single-year study by WRAP revealed that for just two important crops, strawberries and lettuces, £30 million-worth of food ended up as waste: 9% of strawberry production and 19% of lettuces grown. We have also heard about the problem of excessive rain this year, which means that crops will struggle.

As much as 48% of all food loss occurs pre-harvest, with food left in fields, driven by decisions on standards and specifications beyond the control of farmers, such as for the wonky veg that we heard about earlier, and an inflexible broken food system that I am determined we should do more to tackle. We need to fill the gap in food waste policy by focusing on on-farm food waste. Farmers currently lack incentives to redistribute the food, so instead it is left to rot, sent to landfill or anaerobic digestion. This is very topical: climate challenges mean that farmers have recently had to make difficult decisions.

The Government’s subsidy regime gives out £750 million to the anaerobic digestion industry each year, but 64,500 tonnes of the food processed by anaerobic digestion is perfectly good surplus food. Many categorise food waste as a hierarchy. We should aim to keep as much food as possible at the top of that hierarchy. Preferably, it should be distributed to humans, preventing it from becoming waste. Redistribution is the next best option, followed by being sent to animal feed. Recycling food through anaerobic digestion or compost should happen only when the food is unsuitable for consumption.

A recent survey by Farmers Weekly shows that if costs were not a factor, the majority of farmers would like to see surplus food redistributed to charities.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

Does the hon. Lady agree that supermarkets leave food to the very last minute rather than distributing it for human consumption, because they are incentivised to divert it to animal feed? If we can turn that around and incentivise them, as happens in France, to divert it to human consumption or make it compulsory, we will be in a far better place. It would solve some of the problems to which she alludes.

Photo of Jo Gideon Jo Gideon Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. That is exactly the problem that we need to address.

At its heart, this is a simple logistics problem. How can we ensure that as much food as possible reaches the table? When food that is fit to eat cannot be sold, how can we get it to the people who most need it? Has the Minister looked at using the environmental land management schemes to rebalance the incentive for farmers to redistribute their edible food waste where it will be eaten rather than sent for anaerobic digestion?

Specifications can be beneficial and problematic. UK growers are proud of the high-quality food that they produce, but stringent quality parameters have embedded a buying culture among consumers who expect cosmetically perfect-looking produce. Many retailers have launched wonky veg lines to tackle food waste issues. However, those are not as popular, because consumers are trained to think that if something does not look perfect it is in some way inferior, so there is higher in-store wastage on the wonky lines.

Growers do not aim to grow wonky veg. Commercially, it costs the same, but it does not yield the same financial returns as their core volume crops. Retailers need to adopt greater flexibility and specifications to utilise the whole crop, and as consumers we must welcome produce in all shapes and sizes.

In 2022, the Government consulted on plans to require larger food businesses to report their levels of food waste, which resulted in the adoption of a voluntary approach. Following feedback from stakeholders, that decision is being revisited. I welcome that, and I support a regulatory approach to food waste reporting for large food businesses. Will the Minister update us on progress and advise us when we can expect the Government’s decision? The longer it takes, the more food will be wasted. Wasted food is also a waste of the land used to grow it, which could be better used to achieve other societal objectives such as nature recovery.

The first step for food chain operators towards meaningful food waste reduction action is to measure current levels of food waste and publicly report them so that they can act to eliminate waste. What is not measured cannot be reduced, so that is a vital first step. Evidence shows that 99% of companies that invested in food waste reduction had a positive return on their investment, and that for half the companies a £1 investment in action to reduce food waste yields a £14 return. Large businesses would have to prevent only 0.25% of the food waste that they create each year to offset any costs of measurement. That shows that reporting can support wider measures from the Government to reduce inflation and the cost of living.

Any enhanced voluntary or mandatory reporting regime should emphasise that products that are good to eat do not end up as waste. The Company Shop Group, for example, redistributes food that is good to eat or use and is within date, but has been deemed surplus for minor issues such as labelling or packaging errors.

I could not speak on this topic without raising the excellent work of FareShare, the UK’s largest food redistribution charity, which takes edible surplus food from more than 500 businesses and redistributes it to people in need through a UK-wide network of almost 11,000 frontline charities. One in four of the charities with which FareShare works say that if it were not for that supply, they could not keep up with demand to support the people who use their services.

It is often local groups that do fantastic work in this space, so I am delighted, as always, to highlight local efforts to combat food waste. Our local food banks and community-based kitchens, which are often based in faith settings, support those who are most in need. I am always humbled, when visiting volunteer-run local organisations—sadly, there are too many to name individually—to witness how those who have little help those who have less. I recognise and hugely value the work that the charities do in the food redistribution space. We now need to widen the discussion to cover the whole redistribution sector and include opportunities for social enterprises and commercial redistributors. Those businesses have a huge impact on tackling food insecurity in local communities and have a company mission of reducing food waste.

Technology will play an ever-growing role in combating surplus food from local businesses going to waste. In my constituency, we have saved more than 56,000 meals from the bin by using the Too Good To Go app, which is equivalent to one and a half years’ worth of hot showers or 24.8 million smartphone charges. I ask the Minister to consider how that might tie in with introducing more flexibility to the apprenticeship levy, helping to fill skills gaps in the food redistribution sector and the wider food chain and creating more employment opportunities in this growing sector. Indeed, there are excellent business and social enterprise models out there, funded by surplus food in an entirely self-sustaining way, with a social mission to address pathways out of food insecurity, while also preventing food from being wasted.

The national food strategy independent review highlighted the need to rethink our approach to food production, consumption and distribution. Vast potential remains for surplus distribution. By raising awareness of the need to tackle food waste and creating a policy space that empowers businesses, we encourage innovative and supportive investment. As we celebrate the joys and connections that food fosters, let us also pledge to combat food waste and extend the spirit of sharing surplus with those in need in every community.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South

Order. I aim to call the SNP spokesperson to wind up at about 10.28 am, so if hon. Members stick to four to five minutes, everyone will get in.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development) 9:47, 16 April 2024

Thank you, Ms Vaz. I was thinking, “Please don’t call me, because my speech is eight minutes,” but there we go—you have not given me time to cut it down! I thank Jo Gideon for bringing this debate to Westminster Hall today. It is really important; we always say that, but this is crucial.

For most people, the past two years have been utterly dominated by the cost of living crisis, a fall in their living standards and a struggle from one payday to the next. The idea that there would be food waste as people struggle to feed their families seems perverse, but here we are.

I declare an interest, other than the obvious interest of my constituents’ right to nutritious food: I am proud to be a trustee of the Scottish Pantry Network, which started with one pantry in my constituency a few years ago and now has 23 member pantries across Scotland. I will say more about that later, but our passion is alleviating food poverty and reducing food waste. We do that day to day in each of the pantries, and we campaign more broadly for changes that, if we get our way, will make our pantries unnecessary. I am sorry to say that that is not the only organisation in my constituency to have to feed my constituents. North Glasgow Community Food Initiative, Lambhill Stables, Blackhill’s Growing and Spirit of Springburn are just a few of the many, and I pay tribute to their incredible work.

Of course, the UK is not alone in dealing with rampant inflation and an increasing number of its citizens not only feeling the pinch, but being thrust into severe poverty. It is not alone in having far too much wastage in a supply chain predicated on food being plentiful and cheap. Where it differs from other G7 nations such as France and the US is that it has not legislated to address that. The bulk of the work is being carried out by charities and community groups, so it is essential that there is a legislative and economic framework in place to support the businesses and supermarkets that already contribute, as we have heard, and to force those that are not yet engaging to do so. I guess that is probably where we will disagree; I think that they should be forced into it.

As has been mentioned, FareShare is one of the charities at the coalface. To cut down on time, I will not say the wonderful things that I was going to say about it, because the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central has already done that.

My organisation, the Scottish Pantry Network, believes that dignity for people accessing our services is essential. We do not give away food and we do not require people to be living in poverty to access it. We also ensure that the food we sell includes fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. It works out as roughly £15-worth of food for £3 or £4, and we sell it because it gives people some agency; it makes them customers and it means that they are not asking for a handout.

When a person enters one of our pantries, nobody knows whether their motivation is saving the environment or alleviating their own poverty. Many of our shops look exactly like any other shop on the high street. In fact, the Courtyard Pantry in Hamiltonhill in my constituency would not look out of place in a trendy west end setting—although I am not sure how they will feel about me saying that.

Diverting good food from landfill on to people’s plates makes sense on so many different levels. Surely to goodness we can agree that we must do everything in our power, here in this room, to support that. There are a few immediate steps that any Government, incoming or outgoing, need to take to address food insecurity and waste. As I said, the important one is to incentivise surplus food redistribution across the supply chain.

Under current legislation, supermarkets are incentivised to pass food on to become animal feed, even when it is still fit for human consumption. They know that they can still sell the food, so they hang on as long as possible. By the time they give up and decide to get rid of it, it is no longer usable, or it has around three hours left before it becomes unsafe for human consumption. But that is all right because, at that point, the supermarkets are given a subsidy for the food to be given for animal feed. I would like to see that changed.

In France, that practice has been outlawed; supermarkets are simply not allowed to throw away edible food. Incentivising giving food for human consumption is feasible and workable. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it, as well as the Opposition spokesperson, Daniel Zeichner—just in case.

FareShare supplies most of the food to our pantries, but it often struggles to keep up with demand. Right now, FareShare accesses around 4% of the surplus food in the UK. Other businesses, such as discount stores, also buy up the surplus food. If FareShare could access its fair share, organisations such as mine could feed more people.

I want the Minister to know that those organisations are not sitting back and saying, “Give us more.” As we have heard, they are using innovative ways to get more for the people they support. They are growing food—my organisation now has a partnership with a farm, yet we are city-based. They are teaching people to cook so that nothing goes to waste. My organisation has wraparound services to support people into better paid employment and healthier lifestyles. When I ask for Government support for these organisations to be able to access more food, it is to add to the many ways they are doing that themselves. That is worthy of not just kind words—which I am sure will be forthcoming—but action.

We are debating food insecurity, and the focus has so far been primarily on the UK. Members can see that I am passionate about that, but I cannot speak about malnourishment and hungry people without mentioning Palestine, where thousands are starving and at least 27 children have recently died from malnutrition. There is food to feed them, but to get the food there we need a ceasefire now. I repeat my solidarity with the people of Palestine and my disgust at the perpetrators, and I reiterate the calls from so many of us for an immediate and unequivocal ceasefire.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon 9:53, 16 April 2024

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Vaz. I congratulate my hon. Friend Jo Gideon on securing today’s important debate. As she mentioned, 4.6 million tonnes of edible food are wasted in UK households annually. Around a quarter of that food waste is because too much food has been prepared, cooked or served.

I have been a big supporter of FareShare and its work, which in 2023 delivered 33,500 meals through six local community groups back home in North Devon, and more than 132 million meals nationwide. FareShare is the UK’s largest food redistribution charity. It takes surplus food from the food industry that would otherwise go to waste and gets it to a network of 8,500 charities across the UK. However, budget constraints meant that FareShare had to turn down up to 2 million meals-worth of good-to-eat surplus food last year.

I wrote to the Chancellor last November to support the food redistribution sector, because I felt that it was important that the Government continue to support FareShare’s invaluable work for our communities, and that they reconsider the ringfencing of funding for the sector. I am glad that after FareShare’s continuous campaigning, the Government have recently announced a new £15 million fund to tackle surplus food at farm level. The fund will enable farmers to redistribute surplus food that cannot be used commercially. As a very rural MP, I occasionally see different surplus food products in my constituency. I met FareShare very early on in my time in this place, and I was particularly interested to discuss its work with the Country Food Trust, which has championed dishes such as pheasant curry and venison bolognese as high-protein meat sources.

I also want to highlight the Government’s work to combat food waste. They have invested £2.6 million and have supported the Courtauld commitment 2030, which works for a more sustainable supply chain to tackle food waste and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use. Commitments also include a target to halve food waste by 2030.

In 2022, the Government consulted on options to improve food waste reporting by large food businesses in England. More than 380,000 responses were received, and hopefully DEFRA will be considering whether mandatory food waste reporting should be introduced in the future. Nearly £13 million has been awarded to over 250 redistribution organisations across the country since 2018 for the provision of warehousing, vehicles, fridges and freezers.

Weekly collections of food waste will be introduced for most households across England by 2026, ending the threat of waste waiting weeks for collection and cutting food waste heading to landfill. I find it bewildering that when I am up in London I have to put my food waste in the bin with everything else, unlike when I back home in North Devon, where we have a separate food caddy collection, so many thanks to North Devon Council for its work in ensuring that the weekly collections continue. I hope that we will be able to stop the move towards the three and four-weekly bin collections that have been seen in some areas of the UK, because we do not want food waste, particularly in a hot summer, to be sat on the doorstep for too long.

When I supported FareShare’s #FoodOnPlates campaign back in 2021, I said that wasting good food should never be cheaper than feeding people. I ask the Minister to look again at some of FareShare’s requests on how to incentivise businesses to redistribute more surplus food and consider long-term plans, such as the national food strategy, to recognise the bigger picture of how our food system is also linked to our environmental goals.

Many residents at home in North Devon have raised concerns with me about the rise in food prices, which impacts us all. As a result, many charities have reported financial difficulties. As the redistribution of food falls within a cross-departmental remit, I hope that the Minister will be able to share some insight into what is being done behind the scenes to support this crucial sector. Let me take this opportunity to put on the record my thanks to everyone back home in North Devon for their ongoing work on food distribution and to reduce our food waste.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 9:57, 16 April 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I thank Jo Gideon for securing this important debate.

Food redistribution services are fighting on the frontline of the food waste and climate crisis and must be supported. More than a third of all food in the UK is wasted, which is an absolutely shocking statistic. That waste contributes up to 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions and costs the UK economy over £20 billion a year, which is more than the entire aviation sector. There is always lots of public debate about the environmental impacts of aviation, but maybe it is time to shed more light on how we can support food redistribution schemes, which will be foundational if we are to have a more environmentally sustainable future.

In my constituency, I have a wonderful example of success in the redistribution sector called Company Shop, which we have heard about already. The Company Shop Group is a food redistribution service that has been able to transform unwanted products into usable, saleable goods for the benefit of my community and many others in various locations across the country. It understands that the UK throws away at least 10 million tonnes of food every year, but, incredibly, 6 million tonnes of that waste is avoidable and has a retail value of over £17 billion. That is where the Company Shop Group can prevent wasted food and salvage value that would otherwise have literally gone in the bin by reselling the surplus food at a discounted price to its members.

The store in my constituency has saved my constituents nearly £7.5 million on their shopping bills, while saving 2,649 tonnes of food from being binned. Those numbers are astonishing and represent 6.3 million meals that would otherwise have gone to landfill, where they would have fed no one and contributed to preventable environmental damage.

Benefits from food redistribution services such as this are felt by more than just our planet; they are felt in our constituents’ pockets too. As we have seen over the last few years, the cost of food can rise very quickly and fall very slowly, and contribute to growing levels of food insecurity and financial hardship for working people. Food redistribution schemes can be incredibly useful in preventing food waste and ensuring that our food system is more affordable and sustainable. Although the sector has seen incredible success from various charities, there is also vital work by social enterprises and commercial organisations such as the Company Shop Group that we can celebrate.

As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on school food, I hear from food procurement specialists, school food providers, schools and families alike of the dire consequences of food insecurity. It is one of the major challenges policymakers currently face, and the most vulnerable in our society are those who suffer the most. We need to support charities, businesses and organisations to put food redistribution at the centre of their operations, so that we can save our constituents money and preserve the planet for future generations.

That is why many of us cautiously welcome DEFRA’s recent announcement that it will reconsider its earlier decision to delay mandatory food waste reporting for large food businesses until 2026. Due to overwhelming support for the policy from environmentalists, food and nutrition campaigners, food redistribution specialists, the public and businesses alike, the appetite for mandatory food waste reporting is at an all-time high. It is a relatively light-touch and simple intervention, which could be hugely cost-effective, incentivising large food businesses to cut down on their waste, and incentivising redistribution by organisations such as the Company Shop Group.

The food redistribution system has the potential to be incredibly efficient, as long as we achieve the joined-up policymaking that stakeholders across the sector are calling for. Last month, over 30 companies within the food, retail and manufacturing sectors signed an open letter organised by the food redistribution app Too Good to Go. If anybody has not used that app yet, I can highly recommend it, especially in London, where you can access anything within a few metres of where you are; that is not so much the case in the north-east, although I do still manage to use it there.

The letter called on the Government to introduce mandatory food waste reporting as soon as possible. By reporting on food wastage, we support redistribution schemes and tackle the crisis of food waste that was, for too long, a hidden evil in our food system. We need to put food redistribution at the centre of how we think about our food system, and we need the policies to make this happen. Repealing DEFRA’s 2026 timeline and introducing mandatory food waste reporting as soon as possible should be a good place to start. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:03, 16 April 2024

I thank Jo Gideon for leading today’s debate. It is estimated that total food waste in the UK amounted to 10.7 million tonnes in 2021. Most food waste comes from households, equating to some 60%, followed by farms, at 15%, manufacturing, at 13%, and retail, at 2%. It is clear that we need to do more as a collective to tackle our food waste statistics, so it is good to be here to discuss the issue. It is not just something that the Minister gives us the solutions for; it is something that we, as elected representatives, and communities must work together on.

I was shocked to read that the edible parts of household waste amounted to £17 billion. That is the equivalent of £250 per person per year, or £1,000 for a family of four. In Northern Ireland in 2021, Minister Lyons called for a crackdown on food waste. It was estimated that Northern Ireland accounted for 25% of the content of our non-recycling bins.

I want to give a couple of examples to illustrate what has been done in my community. At the end of the day, major shopkeepers, including Asda and Tesco, give perishable goods to community groups, which in turn give them to needy families and elderly people. What they do is incredible. I never knew this until I went to see the local warehouse just before Christmas, but Jude Bailey, the lady in charge of it, also does great work by collecting chicken and ready-made meals. The companies keep that food for 24 hours, but after that time they give it to the warehouse group, which freezes it and in turn makes meals. I was really impressed by what it does. Its volunteers make a free meal for the community every day so that the food is not wasted. That is similar to what Anne McLaughlin described. People are incredibly kind. Jude and her team of committed Christians show their faith through helping others.

We waste not only food but a large amount energy, and there are carbon emissions associated with growing and transporting food. In Northern Ireland, we have successfully diverted 1 million tonnes of biodegradable waste from landfill since 2015, but there is still an excessive amount of waste to be addressed. We are all guilty of throwing out too much food and not making use of what we have in our kitchens, but we do not realise the full extent of the environmental damage that that can cause.

This will be a trip down memory lane for you, Ms Vaz. In the ’60s, when I was a child, nothing was lost in our house—and I mean nothing. We owned a shop, and the family home got what we did not sell. That was not because the food was bad—I am a pensioner now, so it did not affect me in any way. I have held on to my health for many years, so that indicates that the food was okay. When the cheese went a bit blue, we cut off the blue bit and ate the rest, and it did not do us any harm. In this day and age, that probably would not happen, but we did it. Everything was used, and the collie dog got whatever we did not eat. My goodness me: as children in the ’60s with a very capable family, we were examples of using everything in the house.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman is making a very good point that I did not make in my speech. He brought this figure to my mind: although we all think that waste in this country comes from supermarkets and restaurants, 70% is from households. Does he agree that we need to start in our own households, exactly as he is describing, if we want to solve the problem of food waste?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Absolutely, and that is the point that I am trying to make. I said to the Minister before the sitting that I do not expect him to give us all the answers. We have the answers individually and in our communities.

I am thankful that I have a very frugal wife who is careful with our grocery and shopping lists, but I understand the pressure on young families, who are busier now than I could ever imagine. Both parents work, and when they come home they carry out homework and take the kids to football or to Boys’ Brigade or Girls’ Brigade. When do they make meals? They have to rinse out containers for the recycling bin. They may envisage making dinner six times that week and buying groceries, but when the timings are changed for football or the school choir, or the kids need to be dropped off, it is hard for them to do that.

We have rightly moved away from girls-only home economics classes. I am impressed when I go to schools and see equal numbers of young boys in the same class, doing the same work and learning how to cook. Before I was married, it was bacon butties—toast and bacon under the grill. I will not say how often I used the grill and how often it was cleaned. I think I survived well as a single man, but when I got married, life changed. I thank the Lord it did.

It is clear from the figures that have been cited today that we need to take action. I am a great believer in education not simply changing our generation but equipping future generations with the tools to do better than we are currently doing, and I will finish with this comment. Households on low budgets need help to know how best to use their food, but households with higher budgets need the same lessons, because this is not a tale of income; it is a tale of mindset, as Mrs Hodgson said. We all must change our mindsets to be better stewards of our resources, food, money and, of course, time.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 10:09, 16 April 2024

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Vaz. I congratulate Jo Gideon on bringing this important debate to the Chamber.

The contribution that food waste makes to carbon emissions is well documented. More than 10 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK alone, producing 18 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, which is a most potent greenhouse gas. It degrades more quickly, but it is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. Let us not forget that. The food waste index report indicates that 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to food waste—five times more than the aviation sector, as has been mentioned. We mention the aviation sector a lot, but food waste is one of the main contributors to global warming.

Much is made of commercial food waste, and legislation is often targeted at it. However, according to the Office for National Statistics, more than half of food waste happens in the home, and the majority of food that is thrown away is considered edible. Though businesses must bear a higher responsibility for reporting commercial food waste, households must also be incentivised to reduce their own food waste. We heard a powerful comment about what people can do to change their mindsets about food and about what is edible and what is not. There is a lot that households can do to reduce waste by changing behaviour. The waste and resources action programme suggests measures such as ensuring that fresh food is refrigerated below 5°C and purchasing loose, rather than packaged, fruit and vegetables.

More can also be done on date labels. WRAP suggests not putting a label on uncut fresh produce, unless it can be shown that a best before date reduces overall food waste. We Liberal Democrats strongly believe that the UK must adopt circular economy techniques and cut resource use, waste and pollution by maximising recovery, reuse, recycling and remanufacturing. We can do so much better on recycling; too much organic waste is still landfilled or incinerated. Scotland will ban the landfilling of organic waste by 2025, but a similar ban in England will not come into effect until 2028. A 2025 ban would cut emissions by an extra 13% by 2030. Why are the Government not bringing that date forward?

There are many examples from the voluntary sector of the distribution of food that would otherwise go to waste. Organisations such as FareShare, which has been mentioned several times, play a pivotal role in diverting surplus food from the food industry. It redistributes food to a network of 8,500 charities across the nation. In my constituency of Bath last year, FareShare delivered the equivalent of more than 230,000 meals through 27 local organisations. That is an enormous amount, and we must congratulate FareShare on its incredible work.

However, it should not be down to voluntary organisations to plug the gaps that the Government allow to proliferate. We must address the underlying causes of food poverty and over-production. Businesses are not obliged to disclose their food waste data publicly. Will the Government consider bringing in mandatory reporting of food waste for businesses? Mandatory reporting was included in the Government’s resources and waste strategy, among other legislative changes, such as a mandatory food waste prevention target. The changes in the strategy have been broadly welcomed by many, and dozens of large supermarkets have called for voluntary reporting to become mandatory, but we are yet to see the strategy implemented. Could the Government indicate when it will be?

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I am worried about others wanting to speak, so I will not.

Reducing food waste and improving food distribution is an opportunity to encourage sustainable, community-driven initiatives that reduce food waste and food miles. Recent research has indicated that the UK could grow up to 40% of its own fruit and vegetables by using urban green spaces. Liberal Democrats want to restore market garden hinterlands around our towns and cities. That would reduce food miles, provide satisfying jobs and reduce food waste and packaging. It would be a combination of small and medium-sized enterprise and community-supported agriculture.

In my constituency, projects such as CropDrop do incredible work to bridge the gap between locally grown produce and those in need. Since its inception, CropDrop has been a beacon of sustainability, highlighting the importance of allotment access and minimising the waste of locally grown food. In 2020 alone—its first year of operation—CropDrop completed over 150 journeys, delivering an estimated 21,000 meals. That is a prime example of the circular economy that Liberal Democrats want to see implemented across the UK.

Reducing food miles from plant to plate reduces emissions as well as wastage. However, we cannot leave filling the gap to the voluntary sector. The Government need to step up and act on this issue with a sense of urgency. Already inadequate action to address food waste has been delayed. Meanwhile, more food continues to go to landfill and emissions continue. We can do better.

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Education), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport) 10:15, 16 April 2024

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I thank Jo Gideon for securing this debate.

I want to take two different lines. One is the household; many people have made reference to the amount of food waste generated within the home. I will give a small example of what is happening. Many community groups in my constituency have identified that homes are under tremendous pressure, not just from the cost of living; their budgets are being squeezed in every way. These groups have made efforts to bring people together to educate those in the home who are cooking, providing and doing the shopping on how they can prepare meals and generate a shopping list.

Unfortunately, the way in which our supermarkets are laid out is not necessarily helpful. We used to walk into a shop with a list, and we would get what we wanted from behind the counter. Now we walk around the shop and everything is put out to tempt us to say, “Well, I think I need this.” Whenever I go shopping, my wife always says that it costs us twice as much as whenever she does it. My eyes are always bigger than my belly, and unfortunately I decide that certain things are needed when, to be truthful, they are not.

A number of community groups in my area have been running programmes where they are bringing people in, and are learning them how to put together a menu and to shop for a week. We have already heard that almost 70% of food waste is generated in the home and about how we can deal with that. We produce almost 11 million tonnes of food waste in the United Kingdom. That predominately goes to landfill, producing methane. There are other ways to deal with that waste rather than sending it to landfill. We can recover energy from our food waste by using technology.

Worldwide, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted. Much of that is down to lifestyle and how we have learned to be a consumable society; and, as a consequence, we produce far more food than we could ever usefully use. My hon. Friend Jim Shannon said that whenever he was young, the shop would look at whatever was left and see what was close to its end—not its sell-by date, because sometimes the sell-by date does not mean the food cannot be consumed.

Food used to be more local; we are now a global market, and our food comes from all over the world. That contributes to part of the problem because we have created different tastes within our society, including people wanting to eat certain foods that are not produced locally. We used to eat berries that were only produced at certain times of the year. Now we want them all year, so they have to be brought in. We have generated a consumable society that is fuelled by what we have on our shelves.

It is important that we put measures in place. The Food Waste (Reduction) Bill was introduced to Westminster in 2015. Certain parts of that legislation have been mentioned this morning. There are parts we want to encourage, and the large retailers have taken a lead in many areas. We should support them totally; on many occasions, they are ahead of what we are attempting to do as legislators. Certain measures should be brought in, including tax breaks for those who are efficient and do not produce much waste. That has to be considered as an opportunity.

Generally, we should be encouraging the housewife—maybe that is the wrong term to use—or those who are cooking in the home to be far more efficient about what they put on the table and what they do whenever they go out shopping, and ensure that we do not buy more than we can consume. That message will go back. I want to thank those charities that have been so successful in putting forward the FareShare scheme and the food reduction system. The Too Good To Go scheme is also fantastic; I was unaware of it until recently. I again thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central for securing this debate.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South

Order. We have two more speakers before we take the wind-ups at 10.28 am, so they have roughly four minutes each.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence) 10:21, 16 April 2024

It is a privilege to see you in the Chair, Ms Vaz. I would like to cover three subjects. First, I will speak about the benefits of redistribution. Secondly, I will pay tribute to some brilliant community groups, from which I think we can probably all learn. Thirdly, I will talk a little bit about a specific proposal for the Minister today, relating to the emissions trading scheme.

A few years ago, takeaway baguette retailers would boast that if the sandwiches did not sell within three hours, they would be destroyed. I am so pleased that there has been a revolution in our thinking about food waste. We have heard that in 2021 over 10 million tonnes of food went to waste in the UK; that is still a staggering amount, but at least people are now starting to think about how they can avoid food waste. Still, £250 per person is wasted each year from food going in the bin. That is an absolutely huge sum.

I would like to pay tribute to some fantastic community groups. The Foodsave initiative in the part of East Devon that I represent is fantastic. This time last week, I was in the village of Beer, a former fishing village. There is such a strong sense of camaraderie in the food redistribution initiatives like Foodsave. I saw the hall being laid out with so much excess food that had been sought from retailers, including supermarkets. Then at 12.30 pm, the doors opened and in flocked tens of people from the local area to take food, with absolutely no stigma—and why should there be? They were not just alleviating poverty; they were saving food, saving money and avoiding waste. There is a big distinction between what food banks do, with referrals, and what redistribution organisations like Foodsave do. I pay particular tribute to Mike McAlpine from Beer Foodsave and to Jake Bonetta, who set up the initiative in Honiton.

I also want to talk about the time I spent at ReROOTed community café in Tiverton, which operates on a pay-as-you-feel basis. I went there several Saturdays ago and I cleared some plates—not only in the way a waiter does, clearing up after people have eaten, but also by eating the food that they had put together from scraps and morsels. It was absolutely delicious.

Lastly, I have a very specific point to make and a recommendation for the Minister. Given that we reckon that 18 million tonnes of CO2 was released into the atmosphere from the UK in 2021 due to food waste, we really have to think about how we can offset it. The Foodsave initiative—Jake Bonetta and co—has come up with a fantastic proposal. At the moment, the UK-wide emissions trading scheme generates over £4.5 billion—that was the case a couple of years ago anyway—but the Government are spending as little as 20% of the money received through the emissions trading scheme on cutting domestic emissions. What if the voluntary carbon market, which is unregulated, could be used for redistributing some of the funds to some of the community-based organisations that I have described? The Minister will sum up shortly and I encourage him to consider that redistribution scheme operators, such as Foodsave, are expressly eligible to sell their carbon offsetting through the scheme.

Photo of Sarah Dyke Sarah Dyke Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome 10:25, 16 April 2024

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I thank Jo Gideon for securing this important debate.

The food system is not working. People in this country struggle with food security and are living in food poverty. Much of our food waste ends up in landfill, thus contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. The Food Foundation has found that the poorest 20% in society would need to spend half their disposable income to afford the healthy diet recommended by the NHS. Food waste is a significant issue with vast environmental, social and economic implications. We need to redesign the food system to meet everyone’s needs.

Mandatory reporting of food waste for big businesses is key if we want to understand how much food is being wasted. The Government have shown a remarkable level of indecision over whether to move from voluntary to mandatory reporting, but I was pleased that the current DEFRA Secretary decided last year to reconsider the decision not to implement mandatory reporting, but I am still concerned that that is after six years of delays. With the benefits so clear, I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to confirm the timescale for the decision being made.

There is a real lack of information on pre-farm gate food waste, but WRAP estimates that there could be 1.6 million to 3.5 million tonnes a year. I was out talking to a farmer near Castle Cary about this recently and she told me how heartbreaking it is; and as a farmer’s daughter, I also know that. Sadly, much pre-farm gate food waste is driven by unfair supermarket buying practices in the just-in-time food supply model. If farmers fail to produce enough food for supermarkets, they can be hit with penalties that can drive over-production of food to ensure that targets are met. Supermarkets can negotiate contracts that give them flexibility to cancel or reduce orders at the last minute, whereas farmers are more likely to be tied into contracts that leave them with surplus food that they cannot sell elsewhere. We need to give the Groceries Code Adjudicator more teeth to stop that practice and to ensure that there is more fairness in the supply chain.

Riverford Organic Farmers has spearheaded the fairness in farming campaign, and late last year its survey of British fruit and veg farmers revealed that 49% feared they would go out of business within the year. Many cited supermarket behaviour as a major reason for that. The relentless desire of supermarkets to sell pre-packaged food also drives pre-farm gate food waste. Perpetual BOGOF—buy one, get one free—deals, and fruit and veg sold in plastic packaging, encourage consumers to buy more than they may use and force farmers to discard produce that does not fit into the specifications.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South

Order. I call the SNP spokesperson.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member) 10:28, 16 April 2024

It is nice to see you in the Chair this morning, Ms Vaz. I thank Jo Gideon for securing this important debate on food waste and redistribution.

As the SNP spokesperson for the environment and food, I welcome the opportunity to address this issue, which plagues our society: wastage and the unconscionable amount of food waste that we allow to happen each and every year. I will also highlight some of the excellent work being undertaken in Scotland in relation to this subject. It is not just a matter of leftovers on our plates, as important as that is; it is also about the obscene waste of perfectly good, nutritious food while people in our communities the length and breadth of these isles and beyond go hungry.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Commons Business)

The managing director of Too Good To Go, an organisation that has been mentioned several times this morning, has said that the UK Government’s refusal to introduce mandatory food waste reporting is a blow to the UK food waste reduction waste efforts. There has been a lot of criticism about the constant delays on this issue. The European Commission has proposed introducing legally binding targets to try to limit food waste across the EU, leaving the UK behind once again in progressive regulation. Is my hon. Friend as dismayed as I am at the Government’s intransigence on this vital issue?

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She makes excellent points. We are all frustrated with the Government’s intransigence, not just in this area but right across the food, environment and rural affairs spectrum; some of the matters are really disappointing. I know that she is keen on these particular issues and that she has done some excellent work on them, so I commend her for that.

The food waste numbers are stark. In Scotland alone, we waste a staggering 1 million tonnes of food and drink every single year. Shockingly, around 60% of that waste originates within households, with an additional 25% of it coming from food and drink manufacturing. That is enough food to feed countless hungry families, yet it ends up rotting in landfill, emitting harmful greenhouse gases and contributing to the very climate crisis that we are also threatened by.

This issue is not just about individual actions, important as they are. It is about a systematic failure: the failure of the UK Government to take decisive action to address this issue, as my hon. Friend Deidre Brock has just said. Instead, they prefer to prioritise their own narrow political agendas over the wellbeing of our planet and our people.

However, perhaps most frustrating is the fact that so much of the waste is entirely avoidable. We know that 70% of food waste is still edible and that preventing such waste in the first place is not only morally imperative but economically and environmentally sound.

Photo of Sarah Dyke Sarah Dyke Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

I recently visited Frome community fridge, which is the first organisation of its kind in the country. The people there told me that since it was established in 2016 they have been able to fill the equivalent of eight Wembley stadiums with surplus food. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this kind of innovative project is really important in helping us to reduce food waste?

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

The hon. Member is absolutely right. In fact, that is a great analogy. Wembley stadium is massive. The thought of eight Wembleys stacked up—we can all visualise that right now—is absolutely obscene.

Research has shown that achieving a 58% per capita reduction in food waste by 2050 could remove the equivalent of 5.6 million cars from UK roads, which of course would significantly mitigate our carbon outputs. Also, let us not forget the impact on households struggling to make ends meet. We have heard of so many groups and organisations, like the one that Sarah Dyke mentioned, that are doing stellar work in relation to food insecurity across all our constituencies. Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is no different from any other constituency in that regard and I hope that the SNP’s appreciation of all of those groups and organisations is very clear.

Over a third of Scots worry about their ability to afford food, especially in the face of both a cost of living crisis and the disastrous effects of Brexit, which have only served to exacerbate the situation. The National Farmers Union has reported that crops worth over £60 million were left to rot in fields due to Tory-induced labour shortages and indeed other factors, while supermarket shelves are bare, prices are rocketing and people are being left devoid of the essentials that they so rely on.

Fortunately for those of us in Scotland, there is hope on the horizon. The Scottish Government have taken bold steps to address food waste head-on. In 2018, they committed to reducing Scotland’s food waste by 33%, which set a precedent across the rest of Europe. Through regulations and partnerships with organisations such as Zero Waste Scotland and FareShare, whose excellent work we have heard so much about today, the SNP has implemented measures to reduce waste at every level, from production to distribution and all the way through to consumption. We have also improved monitoring and have put infrastructure programmes in place to enhance public engagement and communication. We are leaving no stone unturned in the fight to reduce food waste.

The UK Government must now follow Scotland’s lead and take decisive action on food waste. The Environmental Audit Committee’s report “Environmental Change and Food Security” has called for a national strategy to tackle this issue, echoing much of what the Scottish Government have already implemented, so I hope that the Minister will look kindly on that recommendation. Let us all renew our commitment to reducing food waste and building a more sustainable future for the generations to come.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:34, 16 April 2024

As always, it is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Vaz. It has been a busy few weeks for DEFRA since we were all last together, with the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries knighted and the Secretary of State overriding his civil servants. Anyone would think there was a major event coming up soon. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Robbie Moore, can pass on our congratulations to his colleague, whose knighthood is very well deserved. I also congratulate Jo Gideon on securing today’s debate, on all the work she has done as chair of the national food strategy all-party parliamentary group and on her excellent introduction to the debate.

Nobody wants to see good food wasted, but the scale of food waste in the UK is shocking, as many contributions this morning have outlined, with 3.3 million tonnes of UK food wasted on farms every year and 2.9 million tonnes of farm produce that could still be eaten going to landfill, incineration or waste treatment plants. UK on-farm food waste alone is estimated to use an area of agricultural land half the size of Wales—we have heard lots of similar comparisons this morning—and that land could be used to help sustainably feed the UK and restore nature to address the biodiversity and climate crises.

After leaving the farm gate, the UK food supply chain and households currently waste 9.5 million tonnes of food every year, 70% of which could have been eaten. This annual waste has an approximate cost of £19 billion and causes emissions of 36 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent—a point made very well by my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson. That means that over a quarter of all the food grown in the UK is never eaten, and this wasted harvest counts for between 6% and 7% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, this is at the same time that 2.1 million people in the UK are living in a household that has used a food bank in the last 12 months.

As has been mentioned today, high food inflation also hits poorer families much more severely, forcing them into buying cheaper, less healthy food at best, or hunger at worst. As the Food Foundation recently pointed out, if poorer families were buying the lowest priced fruit and veg available, it would cost between 34% and 52% of one person’s weekly food budget to afford a week’s worth of the recommended five a day. That is twice as much as the 17% to 26% for the wealthiest 10% of families. Despite the high prices, too many farmers and growers increasingly despair when it comes to being able to make a living, particularly in the face of cheap, lower standard imports. As we discussed in last month’s food security debate, this is leaving the UK vulnerable to global supply shocks and disruptions.

Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy and others have pointed to some of the causes of food waste that run throughout the supply chain. We have heard much about them this morning—it is familiar stuff: vegetables grown for a market that has dried up; wonky carrots cast aside; wasted peelings; unappetising meat offcuts; over-ordered food, which supermarkets or restaurants cannot sell; food we bought but no longer fancy at home; and food that rots because of a shortage of labour to harvest it or while stuck in post-Brexit queues at the border. There are problems, it seems, at every stage through our system. But there are also opportunities, and—as ever in this country—there are plenty of good initiatives.

With the encouragement of WRAP and the food waste reduction road map, almost a third of large UK food businesses are implementing “target, measure, act”, representing almost 60% of the overall turnover for UK food manufacture, retail, and hospitality and food service. The redistribution of food by groups and businesses that we have heard much about this morning, such as FareShare and Too Good To Go, helps to feed hungry people through food banks and is of course praiseworthy, but frankly we should not kid ourselves. Voluntary waste reduction and surplus redistribution can, at best, only ever be short-term sticking plaster solutions to food waste, poverty and hunger.

The food waste and surpluses created arise from market failures in the food supply chain. Not only can the Government act to redress them; they committed to a target in last year’s environmental improvement plan, to reduce food waste by 50% by 1 January 2028 in line with the UN sustainable development goal 12.3—but I am afraid that the evidence is that food waste levels have not decreased overall relative to baselines. Furthermore, since 2018, despite huge efforts from some businesses, there has actually been an increase, if waste by producers and manufacturers is included. Including inedible parts, businesses produced 5% more food waste in 2021 compared to baseline, with a 9% increase from producers and manufacturers.

Does the Minister accept that the problem of food waste has actually got worse? Can he tell us whether the 50% reduction target will be achieved in 2028? If not, what further measures does he plan to take? Will he strengthen the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator with an explicit focus on tackling unfair trading practices that lead to food waste?

Will the Minister finally deliver on requiring food waste to be monitored and reported through the supply chain, because businesses—as we have heard—are clear about the importance of a level playing field to ensure that all supply chain participants use better-practice methodology with robust processes to capture and measure their food loss? Does he agree with them that voluntary actions are inadequate, and that the continued failure of many businesses to reduce food waste risks undermining the progress that has been achieved voluntarily?

Businesses supporting mandatory food-waste reporting know that identifying and reporting their waste will enable them to drive down costs and to improve their efficiency and productivity. It is not surprising that the Government’s response to the consultation rejecting regulation faced a legal challenge on the ground of irrationality, given all the evidence in their own impact assessment that costs can be recouped with only a small reduction in food waste. The Secretary of State was therefore right to withdraw his predecessor’s consultation response last November, but, as we have heard, we still have no decision. Instead, the Secretary of State told WRAP to run yet another consultation and said that any decision could still be another six months away. Will the Minister tell us today whether we are any nearer a mandatory scheme being introduced?

Finally, on labour shortages, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee found clear evidence that food insecurity and food waste have increased significantly, with food left in the fields to rot because of lack of labour. It is 10 months since the publication of John Shropshire’s independent review into labour shortages in the food supply chain. What is the Government’s strategy for preventing yet more waste? Where is the response to the Shropshire report, which the Farming Minister promised that we would see last autumn?

Let me conclude by reiterating that for us it is clear that food security is national security. Labour will back our food producers by ensuring that we buy, sell, make and grow more of our food here at home, entrenching our reputation as a beacon for quality food, high standards and ethical treatment of animals. We will ensure that more of our British-grown and reared produce ends up on people’s plates, using the Government’s purchasing power to back British produce with 50% of food in our hospitals, army bases and prisons locally grown or certified to higher environmental standards. We will work with business to design and deliver a proper food waste monitoring programme. Put simply, it is time to end the waste.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:42, 16 April 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz.

I am grateful to all Members who have spoken in this debate. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend Jo Gideon for raising this important issue. Over many years—in fact, for all the years she has been in this place—she has championed challenging the complexities and ensuring that we are doing our best as a country to reduce food waste. I thank her for her efforts.

No one wants to see good food going to waste. It harms the environment and is bad for business. The UK is an international leader on tackling food waste, and we are fully committed to meeting the target of the UN’s sustainable development goal 12.3, which seeks to halve global food waste at consumer and retail levels by 2030. I will try to respond to all the many and various themes raised by Members, but I will start by addressing household food waste, which in my view—I think all of us would agree—is the biggest opportunity for us to meet the 2030 target to reduce food waste, because 60% of food that is wasted in the UK is wasted by citizens in their own homes. That is 4.7 million tonnes of food, which could be eaten, being thrown away every single year.

Action needs to be taken across the supply chain and in the home. We are supportive of consumer awareness campaigns delivered by WRAP, including Food Waste Action Week and Love Food Hate Waste, which helps citizens reduce their food waste. The current focus is moving retailers to sell more loose fruit and vegetables so that people can buy what they need, which reduces waste and saves plastic, I hope reducing the need for as much packaging as there is in the retail network.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Twenty years ago, I was a councillor with responsibility for waste, and we had the same issue then. What has happened in the meantime? In 20 years of being aware of household food waste, what has happened?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Let me highlight some stats that have been presented to me and the Department by WRAP. From the 2007 baseline to 2021, total post-farm-gate waste has dropped by 18.3% and households are wasting 17% less than in 2007. Of course we recognise that household waste is still too high, and we are doing our utmost to reduce it. Jim Shannon talked about education and improving food technology and home economics lessons, so that everyone going through the education system has a better understanding of ingredients, nutritional values and the quantities needed to produce good-quality meals.

All speakers today have referred to the request for mandatory food waste reporting. We support Courtauld’s delivery of the food waste reduction road map, which provides guidance to businesses on identifying and measuring food waste and food surplus. We support the “target, measure, act” approach, as it enables food businesses to drive down food waste through measuring their surplus and waste. It also shines a light on any surplus that arises and how to get it to redistributors.

We consulted on improving the voluntary approach with options that included making it mandatory for large businesses. Members will be aware that when the Secretary of State took up his position in November last year, alongside a new ministerial team that includes me, our determination was to review previous decisions. We are gathering new evidence to make the most informed decision using the latest available data. We look forward to making that decision soon.

I have met Too Good To Go in my constituency, through a visit to Booths supermarket in Ilkley. It is a fantastic organisation, which I hope will be rolled out further in the north-east, if it is not there yet—I can certainly confirm that it is in Yorkshire and working its way north. I took on board the points it made in its request to roll out mandatory reporting, which is being considered by the Secretary of State as we speak.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am sure that the Minister heard the enthusiasm for mandatory reporting from a number of Members. What is causing the Government not to go forward, given that businesses want it to happen?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

A previous Secretary of State made the decision to go for a voluntary approach, and it is right that the new team are reviewing that decision, alongside various stakeholders. As I have said, we aim to make an announcement soon.

The Government strongly support the surplus food redistribution sector because we recognise the environmental and social benefits of making sure that good food is eaten rather than wasted. Since 2018 we have provided nearly £13 million in funding to increase the capacity of the sector, funding infrastructure such as warehouse facilities, freezer units and temperature-controlled vans, taking great strides in improving the capacity of redistributors to access, transport, process, store and ultimately redistribute surplus to people in need. The results of our investment and the hard work of all people involved in the redistribution sector are reflected in the latest report from WRAP, which shows that the total amount of food redistributed in the UK in 2022 was more than 170,000 tonnes. That has a value of around £590 million and is the equivalent of more than 404 million meals. That is an increase of 133% since 2019.

Hon. Members have raised examples of good voluntary schemes in their constituencies. I commend the work done by the Company Shop Group in the constituency of Mrs Hodgson, who noted that 6.3 million meals have been saved that would otherwise have gone to landfill. It is good to recognise the work that is going on in our constituencies. As well as meeting Too Good to Go, I met with Olio just yesterday to discuss its app-based system. A great deal of work is going on in the private sector and in voluntary schemes to reduce food waste.

My hon. Friend Selaine Saxby raised particular on-farm issues, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central. In addition to the work on post-farm-gate surpluses, the Prime Minister announced at the National Farmers Union conference earlier this year action to tackle surplus food on farms, with a £15 million fund to redirect that surplus into the hands of those who need it. We will provide further details in coming months. We are working with stakeholders to ensure the scheme works adequately and appropriately, to make the most positive impact on reducing food waste.

We seek a productive and efficient farming sector that prevents waste from occurring in the first place. We are supporting investment in productivity, boosting equipment, technology and infrastructure through the farming investment fund, which provides grants to farmers and growers that will help their businesses prosper, while improving their productivity and enhancing the environment.

WRAP supports the measures that the Government are rolling out. It recognises that the total amount of edible food on UK farms that might be suitable for redistribution is approximately 330,000 tonnes per annum, or about 10% of the total of 3.6 million tonnes surplus and waste estimated to be generated on farms. The Government are working with various stakeholders, including WRAP, to address how to minimise and redistribute on-farm food waste.

The hon. Members for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) and for Somerton and Frome (Sarah Dyke) spoke about the supply chain and contracts, We have taken steps through the fair dealings powers awarded by the Agriculture Act 2020 to clamp down on unfair contract practices. Last December, we launched a review into fairness in the fresh produce supply chain. We are analysing responses and will soon publish a summary of them, as well as our proposed next steps. We intend to work with stakeholders to explore how those powers could be exercised to reduce those concerns and provide more certainty to farmers, who are being negatively impacted by some of the decisions supermarkets are making through unfair practices in their supply chain contracts.

Many hon. Members raised challenges related to kerbside collection of food waste. The food and drink surplus and waste hierarchy lays out clear guidance for the use and disposal of surplus food and waste. We ask all businesses to take into account the measures that the Government wish to take, particularly in relation to the food hierarchy—first, to prevent food waste, followed by the redistribution of food surplus to those who need it, and, as a last resort, to end up as animal feed. There is tax relief when businesses donate to charity.

There will always be some waste that cannot be prevented. The hierarchy prefers disposal of that waste through anaerobic digestion rather than landfill, because of its recognised negative impacts on the environment. Whatever preventative and reduction actions are taken, some food waste will arise. Anaerobic digestion is the Government’s preferred option for recycling food that eventually ends up as waste. Treating food waste through anaerobic digestion removes it from the residual waste stream, where it can end up in landfill and create harmful greenhouse gases.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central asked how local authorities would roll out kerbside collection of food waste. Under section 45 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, as amended by the Environment Act 2021, we will require all local authorities in England to arrange weekly collection of food waste for recycling. It is frustrating that my local authority in Bradford does not collect food waste; other hon. Members said the same. There is a disparity in what local authorities across England are doing. The Government want to make it clear that all local authorities must adhere to this measure. The waste must always be collected separately from residual waste and dry recyclable materials, so that it can be recycled appropriately. The Act also requires non-household municipal premises, such as businesses, hospitals and schools, to arrange food waste recycling collections.

On simpler recycling, in the Government response published last October we announced that the requirements must be implemented by 31 March 2025 for non-household municipal premises in England such as hospitals, schools and businesses; by 31 March 2026 for kerbside collection for domestic properties; and by 31 March 2027 for microbusinesses. DEFRA has up to £295 million in capital funding to roll out weekly food waste collections across England. The Government will also provide resource funding to be spent from this financial year to support local authorities to implement food waste collections.

The Government are committed to preventing and driving down food waste. We are supporting prevention initiatives and taking action to get surplus food into the redistribution system. That is crucial to ensure that it does not end up in landfill or anaerobic digestion. We are helping businesses to be more resilient and efficient and to cut costs while protecting the environment, and helping citizens with advice on how they can reduce their food waste and save money.

I thank all Members for their contributions today, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central for securing this important debate.

Photo of Jo Gideon Jo Gideon Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent Central 10:56, 16 April 2024

I, too, thank everybody who has taken part in the debate. All hon. Members share the view that we have to do something about food waste. It is not party political, and the tone of the debate was appropriate. I thank the Minister and look forward with bated breath to the announcement on mandatory reporting. I know that he is still gathering evidence, but hopefully we will get a good outcome.

As we reflect on the importance of food in our lives, with 11 million people in the UK experiencing food insecurity and charities struggling to help, I think everybody agrees that we have to address the scandal of the volume of food waste at all stages in the supply chain. That demands a concerted effort across all sectors—Government, industry, farmers and consumers. What Paul Girvan said resonated with me, because I buy more than I need to. I still shop as though I have a family at home, even though they have long since moved out. We all share the responsibility for doing something about that.

By increasing awareness, implementing effective policies, fostering innovation and supporting grassroots efforts, we can transform surplus into sustenance, ensuring that nobody goes hungry, while simultaneously safeguarding our resources and planning for future generations.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered food waste and food distribution.