The government has ditched proposals to force companies to report on food waste and has “no plans” for mandatory targets for prevention, The Grocer can reveal.
A letter to campaigners, sent by environment minister Rebecca Pow, reveals Defra officials are taking no action despite a consultation ending a year ago on plans first promised by ex-Defra environment secretary Michael Gove in 2018.
The backtrack on another key environmental pledge comes as the EU this week announced plans for legally binding food waste reduction targets for member countries.
Gove was praised for taking bold action to tackle food waste, one of the main causes of carbon emissions, five years ago, when he announced plans for annual reporting of food surplus and waste, to be followed up by mandatory targets “should progress be insufficient”.
The move would have made the UK a world leader in food waste transparency.
But Pow’s letter this week, to campaign group Feedback, admitted there were no plans to implement either proposal.
She claimed Defra officials were “currently analysing responses” to the consultation, even though it was launched three years later and finished nearly 12 months ago.
And while the government has secured the ability in the Environment Act to impose mandatory targets, Pow said there were “no plans at this time to utilise these powers”.
The move comes despite Tesco and food waste experts Wrap warning progress on food waste was being undermined by a lack of mandatory reporting.
“We are very disappointed by the parliamentary under-secretary of state for Defra’s lack-lustre response, which reveals there is still no concrete date set to respond to the consultation on food waste reporting, despite the consultation being launched three years late and closing nearly a year ago,” said Martin Bowman, senior policy and campaigns manager at Feedback.
“We urge Defra to respond to the consultation, and to put forward proposals for mandatory food waste reporting for all medium and large food businesses, covering all sectors from farm to fork.
“No reliable UK-wide data exists at all for on-farm food waste, we haven’t had any reliable data on hospitality and food service food waste since 2011, and progress to reduce food waste in UK businesses has been at most 1% per year.
“That’s why everyone from Wrap to the Efra Committee to Tesco have urged that mandatory food waste reporting is essential to the UK meeting Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to halve food waste by 2030.”
A Tesco spokeswoman said: “Working in partnership with our suppliers, Tesco has significantly cut food waste and loss; meaning more product is getting to more customers at great prices.
“However, the work we and our suppliers do won’t tackle the issue alone. The principle of Target, Measure, Act, is globally recognised as an approach to action and transparency, identifying food waste and driving it out the system.
“We have long called for government to introduce mandatory food waste reporting to help measure and judge if real action is happening.”
Meanwhile, the European Commission this week set out proposals for legally binding targets to reduce food waste by 2030, including a 30% reduction for households, restaurants, and retail.
Under the plans, member states will be legally obliged to reduce overall food waste in stores, restaurants and households by 30% per capita by the end of 2030, based on 2020 figures, while food manufacturers will be set a lower target of 10%. Primary production on farms is not covered by the EU’s plans.
Campaign groups said the moves fell well short of the UN targets of reducing waste by 50% by 2030 under the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.
Feedback’s Bowman added: “After a decade of delays, whilst it is a positive step that the Commission is proposing legally binding food waste targets, its unambitious proposals for the scale of the targets is an insult. By proposing a target lower than 50% reduction, the Commission is effectively planning to fail to meet [its pledge] to halve food waste by 2030.
“By excluding primary production food waste, and proposing a pitifully low target of 10% reduction for manufacturing – despite a significant portion of supply chain food waste occurring in these sectors – the Commission has effectively given businesses a free pass to continue wasting food.”