food waste

The government has confirmed it is ditching plans to force large companies to report their figures on food waste, despite 80% of those responding to its official consultation saying they were in favour of the plans, The Grocer can reveal.

Defra quietly released documents today revealing it was canning the proposals, first promised by Michael Gove in 2018, having bowed to industry and Tory backbenchers’ concerns over the impact on food prices.

It said plans for large companies to report annually on their food waste figures would have saddled the industry with costs of almost £70m over 12 years, compared to just £12m for a back-up plan which will instead encourage more voluntary reporting.

The Grocer revealed earlier this month Defra was set to row back on the proposals, after a much-delayed consultation, despite the UK’s largest retailer Tesco warning that without mandatory reporting the UK will struggle to hit its carbon reduction targets.

The move is the latest u-turn by Defra on key environmental pledges, after it also this week shelved its landmark policy of Extended Producer Responsibility, again because of the predicted cost to the industry and the knock-on impact on inflation.

Instead of binding regulations forcing companies to measure and publicly report on their food waste figures, Defra will instead pursue a policy of extending its little-known Field Force team of sector specialists, to accelerate the take-up of voluntary measurement and reporting of food waste figures.

As well as Tesco and organisations such as Wrap, the government’s own food waste experts have urged the government to bring in mandatory reporting.

With responses from nearly 4,000 individuals and businesses, Defra acknowledged there was “general widespread support” from charities, social enterprises and retailers for mandatory measurement and reporting by large food companies.

There was also majority support for the plans to be extended to medium-sized companies, although it said few medium-sized companies submitted responses.

But the government’s response said: “After careful consideration of the responses to the consultation, the government has decided a regulatory approach is not suitable at this time, especially when any additional costs may be passed on to consumers.

“We recognise those respondents were in support of mandatory reporting because they consider a regulatory approach to lead to an increase in the number of businesses reporting and reducing food waste, levelling the playing field and bringing financial savings for business and environmental benefits, including minimising the resources used to producing food and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from waste management.

“However, we also note only 39% of respondents to the consultation identified as a large business. This means the majority of respondents would not be directly impacted by the regulatory policy option outlined in the consultation.

“We therefore acknowledge that, although the majority of respondents indicated support for a regulatory approach to food waste reporting, most of those responding would not be required to measure and report food waste themselves.”

It added: “Furthermore, there are costs to large businesses associated with introducing regulation for food waste reporting. Although any action to reduce food waste taken as a result of regulation would bring financial savings to business, there are set-up and operational financial costs associated with complying with regulation.”

Martin Bowman, campaign manager at Feedback, which had campaigned in favour of mandatory reporting, said the decision was “terrible news” for the battle against food waste and the fight versus global warming

“With the clock ticking for the UK to halve food waste by 2030 and meet Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, there is widespread recognition that we need mandatory food waste reporting. Wrap, who run the UK’s voluntary food waste commitments, have said that mandatory reporting is ‘essential if SDG 12.3 is to be achieved’.

“It’s massively disappointing that despite the strong support for this, Defra has decided to go the other way.”

A spokeswoman for Tesco said: “We have long called for government to introduce mandatory food waste reporting to help measure and judge if real action is happening.”