Retail practice causes food overproduction and waste, charity claims

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: Food waste, Supermarket

The retail sector is accused of driving food overproduction and waste on UK farms that threatens to undermine supermarket initiatives that aim to cut down on surplus produce.

Investigations​ by the food and environment charity Feedback reveal that supermarkets primarily looking for ‘cosmetically perfect’ produce reject 10 to 16% of all crops produced on farms.

This percentage, equivalent to between 22,000 and 37,000 tonnes, is also caused by supermarket pressure on farmers to overproduce in order to account for natural uncontrollable factors like weather and pests.

Other food waste drivers include cancelled or altered orders in which the charity highlighted a power imbalance that allowed retailers to burden farmers with both food waste and the associated costs.

“Despite a government and industry focus on food waste occurring in homes, our research finds that waste on farms, often a result of supermarkets’ outsized power in the supply chain, is significant and pervasive,”​ said Carina Millstone, executive director of Feedback.

“Supermarkets need to recognise their part in driving food waste on the farms in their supply chain- and work with their suppliers to reduce this waste.

Retail waste-reducing actions

While some supermarkets have made public commitments to reducing food waste, the report concludes these measures have had little impact.

Earlier this year, Aldi UK and Ireland announced plans to lessen their operational food waste by half by 2030.

Following suit, UK retailers Co-op has introduced an initiative where by outlets now sell food products past their sell-by date in an effort to minimise waste.

Tesco, one of the supermarkets mentioned in the report, launched its ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ wonky fruit and vegetables in March 2016 as a way of cutting down on food waste.

Here, produce that fall outside the retailer’s specifications are included in the range. Last year, Tesco also announced plans to join forces with suppliers such as Yeo Valley, Branston, Allied Bakeries, Müller Milk & Ingredients and Kerry Foods to tackle global food waste.

“Great progress has been made, but the reality is that we need many more companies, countries or cities committing to halve food waste by 2030, measuring and publishing their data and acting on that insight to tackle food waste,” ​said Tesco CEO Dave Lewis.

“I am delighted that many of our major suppliers have taken this important step so we can work in partnership to reduce food waste”

However, Peter Griffith, director of Farming Online, which collaborated in the research, said, “It is extraordinary that we are still getting to grips with how we waste food throughout the supply chain.

“Not only that, but it is also wasting the resources that have gone into producing that food.”

Government targets

In a message to UK policy makers, the report referenced the charity WRAP’s efforts in benchmarking pre-farm gate food waste by 2018.

Feedback urged Government to publish the results of an equivalent analysis to the regular ‘Household food waste in the UK’ on a regular basis.

“Consistent measurement should also include qualitative examination of the causes of food waste, taking a whole supply chain approach including analysis of power relations across the supply chain,”​ they added.

In addition, Feedback wanted the UK government to adopt a national target to reduce UK food waste by 50% from farm to fork by 2030.

This, they said was in line with the World Resources Institute’s recommendation that it is best practice to interpret the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 as halving food waste from farm to fork.

“The current Courtauld 2025 agreement is not sufficiently ambitious to meet SDG 12.3 if it is interpreted as farm to fork,” ​the report concluded.

“Tesco themselves called for businesses to go beyond Courtauld and to meet 50% reductions farm to fork by 2030.”

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