food waste veg farming

A third of all food produced worldwide is either lost or wasted

We all have cherished memories centred around sharing food – birthdays, weddings, and celebrations unite us. Food is the thread that weaves the fabric of our families, communities, and societies.

It is a universal language understood by all – which makes the figures around food waste especially striking. In the UK alone, 4.6 million tonnes of edible food are wasted each year, a stark dilemma in a world struggling with hunger and environmental challenges. Last week, I led a debate in Westminster Hall to address this issue.

The food waste paradox is evident: discarded food could feed the nation for nearly two months. This issue extends through the entire supply chain, from farms to supermarkets to dining tables, and represents a global crisis. A third of all food produced worldwide is either lost or wasted, creating an environmental impact four times greater than the entire aviation sector.

Where to start

The environmental toll of food waste goes beyond the mere loss of resources. It includes the release of greenhouse gases that comes from organic waste decomposing in landfills. Although anaerobic digestion can convert food into energy, nearly half of UK councils do not yet collect food waste separately. I am grateful that the government has committed to implementing a weekly collection of food waste in a move to tackle this.

Addressing this issue demands urgent action across all levels of society. The UK’s Courtauld Commitment aims to halve food waste by 2030. Achieving this ambitious target requires robust policy interventions and a shift in societal behaviour. On the supply side, improving packaging and date labelling, and re-evaluating retail practices that encourage overbuying such as multibuy offers, could significantly reduce waste.

The problem must also be addressed at the beginning of the supply chain. Farming practices lead to waste due to stringent food standards that prioritise aesthetics over utility.

For instance, nearly £30m worth of strawberries and lettuces are discarded annually because they do not meet commercial standards. There is a critical need to rethink these standards and support farmers in redirecting surplus produce to those in need.

Tech to save food

Organisations like FareShare are making significant strides on the issue of surplus, turning an environmental issue into a social benefit. Technological solutions also play a crucial role; for example, apps like Too Good To Go help rescue meals that would otherwise be discarded.

Governmental support is essential for enhancing these efforts. The prime minister recently announced £15m to help redistribute more surplus food from farms. I supported this campaign, spearheaded by FareShare and The Felix Project, alongside many MPs from across the political spectrum, as well as industry stakeholders like The Grocer. It is positive that the government is also reconsidering mandatory food waste reporting for large businesses.

But there is still more that can be done. For instance, using the Sustainable Farming Incentive to encourage farmers to redistribute their surplus food to charities. Additionally, governmental backing for technologies and practices that make food redistribution easier and more effective should be prioritised, along with more flexibility in the apprenticeship levy to help fill skill gaps in the food redistribution sector and wider food chain.

As a society, we must also challenge our perceptions and behaviours around food consumption. Embracing “wonky veg” and other less aesthetically pleasing but perfectly edible products can reduce waste and change the culture of consumption. Each of us has a role to play, from the choices we make as consumers to the policies we support at the political level.

By increasing awareness, implementing effective policies, fostering innovation, and supporting grassroots efforts, we can transform surplus into sustenance, ensuring no one goes hungry while simultaneously safeguarding our resources and planet for future generations.