food waste

Food campaigners have launched a crowdfunding appeal to finance a judicial review of the government decision to scrap its plans for mandatory food waste reporting by food and drink companies.

The move by the campaign group Feedback comes after its lawyers Leigh Day filed an application for the review on Friday.

The Grocer reported last month that campaigners were threatening to challenge the decision by Defra to shelve mandatory reporting, first promised by Michael Gove in 2018.

That was despite the government’s own consultation showing that the majority of businesses in scope were in favour of mandatory reporting, and 99% of respondents overall.

The Grocer revealed in July that ministers were to row back on the promise amid fears over the financial impact on companies and the potential knock-on effect on food prices.

Feedback is challenging the consultation on the grounds the government’s decision is not based on a reasonable or rational view of the evidence it received.

It also argues that the decision is based on an inadequate impact assessment, ignores advice from the government’s own experts, the Climate Change Committee, and fails to take into account the emissions savings that would result from making food waste reporting mandatory.

Defra warned 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 with just £12m for a back-up plan, which will instead encourage more voluntary reporting.

But Feedback pointed out that up to 13 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the UK, equivalent of up to a third of the food the UK imports each year.

A study from the University of Bangor and Feedback found that halving UK food waste would save approximately 0.8 million hectares of cropland domestically and overseas, which Feedback estimated could produce enough potatoes and peas to feed 28% of the UK population their yearly calories.

Earlier this year, Feedback won the right to challenge Defra’s National Food Strategy on the basis that it failed to take into account ministers’ duties to cut carbon emissions. Represented by the environment team at Leigh Day, Feedback argues that the government appears to have ignored expert advice, including from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and waste experts Wrap.

“Reducing food waste is vital to reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions,” said Feedback executive director Carina Millstone.

“The government’s decision to scrap its plans to introduce mandatory food waste reporting ignores its own impact assessment, the advice of waste and climate experts, and the preference of the vast majority of consultation respondents.

“We are highly disappointed that the government has chosen not to reverse its plans following our lawyers’ letter and instead prefers to sit back and wait for climate catastrophe to unfold. Rather than join them on the bench, we have now launched an urgent crowdfunding appeal to cover our legal fees and our lawyers have applied for a judicial review of this bizarre and reckless decision.”

Leigh Day solicitor Ricardo Gama added: “The government has decided to continue with a voluntary food waste reporting scheme even though all the expert advice said that voluntary measures aren’t working. That includes advice from the Climate Change Committee, who have said that mandatory food waste reporting should have been introduced by 2022 in order for the UK to stay on the Balanced Net Zero Pathway. All the evidence shows that the costs to the shopper of introducing a mandatory requirement will be massively outweighed by savings, which would be achieved by reductions in food waste. Our clients say it is impossible to see how the government’s decision can be based on a rational reading of the evidence.”

Having rejected mandatory reporting in June, the government is instead exploring the expansion of voluntary reporting run by Wrap until at least 2025.

Wrap has said mandatory reporting is “essential” because of the “disappointing” lack of voluntary reporting by businesses, and warned Defra in the government’s impact assessment that “enhanced voluntary reporting” would be “more expensive” than mandatory food waste reporting “with significantly less food waste being targeted”.

Feedback will also argue that the government ignored vital evidence relating to the potential cost savings arising as a result of mandatory reporting.

Mandatory food waste reporting also had the support of the majority of businesses. Seventy-nine per cent of retailers, 73% of hospitality and 67% of primary producers responding to the consultation backed the introduction of mandatory food waste reporting. Tesco has said: “Publishing food waste data is vital and must be mandatory if the UK is to halve food waste by 2030”. More recently it said it remains “critical”.

Reacting to news that the plans for mandatory reporting were being scrapped, Waitrose said it was “disappointed”. Ocado said it was supportive of mandatory reporting.

The application will be considered by a judge who will decide within a few months whether the case will proceed to a judicial review.