Wrap has defended the food industry’s efforts to reduce waste, after retailers and manufacturers were accused of making only slow progress on waste reduction in the House of Commons yesterday.

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy told parliament the UK food industry had “unambitious” waste reduction targets and had been “slow” to reduce waste under phase two of the Courtauld agreement.

She made the claim during the first reading of her proposed bill on food waste – which could compel large supermarkets and food manufacturers to donate food they do not use to charity – in the House of Commons yesterday.

McCarthy said the British food industry’s target of reducing product and packaging waste by 5% between 2009 and the end of 2012 compared badly with equivalent Dutch and Norwegian targets of 20% and 25% respectively. Despite the low target, UK food companies had fallen well short, she added, cutting their waste by only 0.4% in the first year.

But Wrap said the 0.4% reduction was for 2010 only, “so there remains opportunity for progress in 2011 and 2012 to meet this target”. The body added that companies had been working hard to find ways of reducing waste, which in itself showed the 5% target was challenging “and not something that can be achieved overnight”.

McCarthy’s bill – which has cross-party support – calls for large manufacturers and retailers to be forced to donate surplus food to charity, among other proposals.

Wrap said redistribution of food for human consumption was already within the scope of the Courtauld Commitment supply chain target, and it was working with Courtauld signatories to include waste prevention and re-use in waste management strategies.

Earlier this week, Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said there was no need to introduce a new law to address food waste, with retailers already substantially reducing waste already thanks to better forecasting and improvements in packaging.

“Of all the food waste produced in the UK, only around 6% comes from retail; more than 50% is generated by households,” he said. “The key objective should be eliminating all food waste and where that’s not possible finding the right outlet for it.”

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, McCarthy said she was “well aware” that around half of food waste was down to households and acknowledged some supermarkets and manufacturers had supported consumers in reducing waste.

“For example, Warburtons has removed ‘display until’ dates from its bread, and Asda has introduced releasable salad bags,” she said.

“I am by no means saying that retailers and manufacturers are totally to blame, but they do waste a staggering 3.6 million tonnes of food per annum,” McCarthy added. She said poor forecasting, labelling errors and barcode problems were often to blame, as well as promotional campaigns and seasonal offers.

“For example, any products carrying Olympics promotional offers will be dumped as soon as the games are over,” she argued.

McCarthy’s bill will receive its second reading on 27 April.