Retailers have warned that coalition plans to axe ‘best before’ labels from food are not a “silver bullet” for defeating waste.

The government is set to issue new guidance to retailers urging them to minimise their use of the labels.

The new guidance, part of a drive to cut the billions of pounds’ worth of food thrown away by consumers every year, will instead stress that the labels are simply a guide to food quality and not safety.

But the British Retail Consortium laughed off suggestions that amending labels was “the key to tackling food waste”.

“As with so many areas of public policy, it is easy to get fixated on one part of an issue as a ‘silver bullet’ solution,” said BRC spokesman Richard Dodd.

“The idea that they are the cause of food waste is wrong. There certainly is scope for developing a better understanding among customers of what the dates mean.

“[But] helping customers better manage the buying, storing and using of food would be a more effective way of battling food waste.”

He added that approval from the European Union would be required to enforce changes to labelling requirements.

The row comes after the Local Government Association estimated that a total of £14bn of food is thrown away each year.

“Staples such as mushrooms and tomatoes are routinely marked ‘best before’ when all that happens when they reach these dates is the food loses a bit of colour or goes a bit soft,” the Sunday Telegraph quoted a coalition source as saying.

“We cannot carry on simply throwing away tons of food like this.”

Read more
Bogofs get blame for £14bn food waste mountain (11 April 2011)
FSA guides on ‘use-by’ or ‘best-before’ (16 January 2010)