Just half a dozen companies in the food industry have introduced effective systems to divert food destined to become waste to help feed the poor.

That was the claim made this week by Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of FareShare.

Speaking at an inquiry launched by the environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of MPs, Boswell said despite several major supermarkets stepping up their efforts, the UK lagged terribly behind other countries.

With Wrap figures suggesting 400,000 tonnes of surplus food fit for human consumption was wasted every year, Boswell said lack of action by retailers and absence of leadership from government was jointly to blame for a wasted opportunity to feed millions of people.

“The figures we are talking about are absolutely ­enormous,” Boswell told the committee, which will quiz several of the leading supermarket chains in coming weeks.

If the amount of food surplus redirected to charities, currently just 2%, was raised to 25% it would result in an additional 100,000 tonnes of food, or 238 million meals, being redistributed a year, Boswell said.

He named Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco as the only retailers with ­effective supply systems to redistribute food on a national scale, with suppliers Nestlé, Kellogg’s and Gerber also making key contributions.

The FareShare boss blasted what he claimed were perverse ­incentives from the government, which made it more financially lucrative for retailers and suppliers to see their food go to animal feed or anaerobic ­digestion, whereas redistributing the food to charities cost them money.

This showed the ­government was going against its commitment to ensure feeding humans was prioritised, Boswell claimed.