As the mercury threatened to go off the charts today, it’s a reminder of the extreme impact the fluctuating weather can have on the fortunes of the food and drink industry. 

Only a few weeks ago supermarkets and suppliers were blaming the washout summer, as much as Brexit, for putting the mockers on their financial performance. 

However, other factors are in the control of the industry and government – and the shocking figures contained in a new report by Wrap today must surely be a wake-up call, despite the huge issues currently facing the industry.

In what it bills as the most detailed report yet on the amount of food being wasted in the UK before it even reaches the farmgate, Wrap reveals a “staggering” £650m, or 1.6 million tonnes of the stuff, is being wasted. This food is often ploughed back into the ground before it even makes it on to the back of a truck.

And the picture is even worse once you take into account the additional two million tonnes per a year not sold for human consumption as intended, but instead used as livestock feed, redistributed to charities, or used in bio-based materials such as colourants. This represents 4% of production, with a market value of more than £500m.

For one product, lettuces, the percentage of waste was nearly a quarter of all production – a mammoth 104,000 tonnes in 2017 alone.

Wrap is the first to admit that these figures are not 100% accurate, but educated guesswork. Yet they are based on an international literature review of 85 studies of primary production and cannot be ignored.

The report acknowledges that pre-harvest factors such as variety selection, crop management, pest and disease and, yes, the weather, are key factors. But it also makes clear that a “significant” amount of waste is caused by consumers and the industry itself. 

There has been much coverage of the trend towards so-called wonky veg in the past few years, but Wrap says supermarket quality requirements, influenced by consumer preferences, are forcing farmers to bury perfectly good food. 

In recent months, Defra, under Michael Gove, has seemingly woken up to its role in tackling food waste, with major breakthroughs in redistribution, influenced strongly by The Grocer’s Waste Not Want Not campaign.

But the reality is the amount of pre-farmgate food waste, if Wrap is correct, is 80 times the amount of food redistributed last year to the needy by the UK’s biggest food waste charity, FareShare.

So as Theresa Villiers steps into Gove’s shoes at Defra (as its sixth secretary since 2010), it’s a reminder that she has more than the chaos of Brexit on her plate.

As for the industry, while supermarkets will hopefully enjoy a bumper time as Britain bakes in in the sun, the message is also clear – the food waste scandal will only be truly tackled when measures to prevent it extend throughout the supply chain. Supermarkets are fond of the phrase ‘farm to fork’ but are less keen to admit that 1.6 million tonnes of food is not even making it out of those farmgates.