More than six million meals worth of edible food goes to waste before it makes it out of the farm gate, according to a shocking new report by WWF and Tesco.

The report calls for urgent government action to tackle food waste on UK farms, which it estimates amounts to 3.3 million tonnes a year, making up a quarter of all food lost and wasted in the UK.

The report, called Hidden Waste, says food lost off farms dwarfs the total waste occurring in manufacturing, retail and the hospitality sector, and warns it is putting the UK’s food security at risk.

Despite its title, the report is the latest to throw scrutiny on the scandal of pre-farmgate waste, with Wrap as long ago as 2017 producing a report suggesting the scale dwarfed that of food wasted by UK manufacturers and retailers.

However, today’s document says the cost of living crisis has made action from ministers even more imperative.

“Given the current cost of living crisis and a growing number of people in the UK facing food insecurity and poverty, this can no longer be ignored,” the report says.

It adds: “We must see greater commitment from UK governments and businesses to support farmers and efforts to reduce farm-stage food waste.”

The report comes amid fears the UK’s plans to tackle food waste are being slowed down by the economic situation.

Campaigners have accused the government of stalling on promised plans to bring in mandatory food waste reporting for large companies.

Last month The Grocer revealed Wrap and IGD’s Food Waste Roadmap was set to be redrawn, with some of its timescale ambitions lowered because of the economic situation facing companies signed up to the initiative.

However, Tesco last month announced it was speeding up efforts to halve food waste in its own operations by 2025, five years ahead of the original UN goal, and urged other companies to do more to increase transparency.

“At a time when people up and down the country are struggling to put food on the table, it is unfathomable that millions of tonnes of food is going to waste on UK farms each year,” said Kate Norgrove, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF.

“This hidden crisis shows why we need urgent action to fix our broken food system.

“Given the cascade of benefits that tackling food waste on farms could bring – from bolstering our food security to helping address the climate crisis – UK government and businesses across the food sector must take urgent action to support farmers in slashing food loss and waste on farms, as part of wider efforts to drive down waste across the food system.

“At the same time, ministers must reaffirm the government’s commitment to incentives that will drive a UK-wide shift to nature-friendly farming, helping to future-proof our food system and bring our world back to life.”  

“It’s completely unacceptable that good food goes to waste, and never more so than at a time when families face rising costs and far too many people are struggling to put food on the table,” added Sarah Bradbury, quality director at Tesco.

“It’s why we’ve worked hard to tackle the issue of food waste in our own business, recently announcing that we will accelerate our plans to halve food waste in our own operations by 2025, five years ahead of our original goal.

“We want to support our farmers and suppliers to do the same, encouraging them to Target, Measure, Act and follow the lead of 107 of our suppliers who have collectively cut food loss and waste by 78,000 tonnes.

“Today’s report by the Tesco-WWF partnership plays a critical role in shining a light on hidden food waste. With ongoing environmental and economic challenges affecting the food system, we hope it will challenge our industry to understand the underlying drivers of on-farm waste and help us to work together to resolve it.”