Supermarkets must take far greater responsibility for the battle against food waste and move away from wasteful bogof offers, a House of Lords committee has urged.
It also called on the government to create greater incentives for supermarkets to donate unsold food to food banks, including changing VAT rates and offering tax breaks to retailers who redistribute food.
At least 90 million tonnes of food were wasted across the European Union every year, and urgent action was needed to tackle the problem, the Lords’ EU Committee said in its report on food waste, published today.
“We were shocked at the extent of food waste in the EU. Especially given the current economic challenges the EU faces, it is an absolutely shocking waste of resources”
Retailers played a big role in influencing consumer behaviour in the home and therefore needed to make sure their promotional strategies and mechanics did not encourage waste, it said: “It is clear that retailers must assume a far greater responsibility for the prevention of food waste in the home. Retailers must ensure that incentives and promotions offered to consumers do not transfer waste from the store to the household.”
For certain types of produce, for example, supermarkets should no longer offer any ‘buy one get one free’ deals, it added. “We are urging the supermarkets to look again at offers such as ‘buy one get one free’, which can encourage excess consumption which leads to food waste,” said committee chair Baroness Scott.
The committee – which looked at food waste problems across the EU and not just purely in the UK – also said retailers needed to do more to ensure food was not wasted at farm level. In particular, supermarkets should “work harder to avoid cancelling orders of food that has already been grown by producers”, it said, adding such cancellations led to “unsold but perfectly edible food being ploughed back into the fields or left unharvested”.
The committee also called on the European Commission and EU governments to consider creating tax incentives to encourage more retailers to redistribute unsold food to food banks instead of composting it or sending it to anaerobic digesters. “One financial tool available to member states is the possibility to exempt food donated for charitable purposes from value added tax (VAT),” it suggested, adding “another fiscal option already operated in some countries is to offer tax deductions for redistribution schemes”.
“We were shocked at the extent of food waste in the EU. Especially given the current economic challenges the EU faces, it is an absolutely shocking waste of resources,” said Baroness Scott. “We are calling on the new European Commission, which will be appointed in November this year, to publish a five-year strategy for reducing food waste across the EU, and to do so within six months of taking office.”
FareShare, the food redistribution charity, welcomed the report’s recommendations. “Being able to turn food waste into energy is fantastic, but while people are going hungry, edible food shouldn’t be used to feed animals or create energy,” said CEO Lindsay Boswell. “Currently, there are a number of government incentives to turn food into energy, but these same incentives do not exist for feeding people. It just doesn’t make sense.”