Collaborative Approach to Reduce Food Waste from Farm to Consumer

UK - There needs to be greater collaboration between farmers, retailers and processors to reduce food waste along the supply chain, writes Chris Harris.
calendar icon 24 October 2016
clock icon 6 minute read

Speaking at the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum on Food Waste Policy in the UK, Dr Diane Mitchell, the chief environmental adviser to the National Farmers’ Union, said that although there is a lot of food wasted in the household, there is also waste along the supply chain, which has financial impact along the whole chain.

She said that while fruit and vegetables suffer the most significant waste, food is wasted for numerous reasons such as being out of the specification set by the retailer, cancelled contracts because of changes in demand, over production and harvesting wastage.

“But farmers do not grow waste – it is not intentional,” she said.

"Decisions are made at the retail end that have an effect along the supply chain.”

Dr Mitchell said that processors and retailers must also take into account outside forces that cause waste, such as changes in weather, pests and diseases and poor harvesting and processing techniques.

She said there has to be a better relationship between the farmer and the consumer through the retailer to reduce food waste.

Dr Mitchell added that retailers have to take into account seasonal influences on production and she said that retailers need to produce demand forecasts to help farmers produce to meet the demand.

Promotions also need to be timed to coincide with the production cycle.

Implement changes in all parts of supply chain

Dr Richard Swannell, the development director at WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) told the forum that at present the world is wasting about a third of the food that is produced, equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes and worth £750 billion.

He added that it is responsible for the third largest emissions of greenhouse gases in the world.

“Basically, we can’t keep doing this,” Dr Swannell said.

“For every two tonnes of food we eat, we waste a tonne. There are now big international drivers that are forcing us to change.”

He told the forum that in the UK an initiative – Courtauld 2025 - is seeing all the members of the food supply chain come together to change production and practices to see a 20 per cent reduction in food waste and a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years.

Dr Swannell said that by targeting hotspots of resource use, the initiative will cut the waste and greenhouse gas emissions associated with food and drink by at least one-fifth per person in ten years and improve water stewardship, with cumulative savings of around £20 billion.

He said the collaborative initiative aims to provide lower impact products more efficiently and help people get more value from the food and drink they buy and make best use of remaining waste and surplus food.

In the UK at present there are 135 signatories to the scheme including 95 per cent of the retail sector.

“We have to focus where we can have the biggest impact, including meat, fresh produce and dairy,” Dr Swannell said.

He said the initiative is diving best practice and innovation.

“We are taking it back pre-farm gate, looking at the farm and working with the NFU and AHDB,” he said.

He added that the initiative also has to work more closely with households because 7 million tonnes of waste is produced in homes each year.

Lawyer Ben Sheppard, a partner in Walker Morris, said that the current legislation in the UK is governed by EU law under the Landfill Directive and the Waste Framework Directive, which has set targets of 50 per cent recycling by 2020.

However, he said that EU policies have focused on treatment of the problem rather that prevention and they have not fully included food waste.

The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe is now looking to cut food waste by half, but he added that the EU is setting “aspirational” targets.

Mr Sheppard said that the European Commission has also adopted an ambitious Circular Economy Package, which includes revised legislative proposals on waste to stimulate Europe's change to a circular economy, which will boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs.

It has an action plan that establishes a programme, with measures covering the whole cycle: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials and also covering food and animal feed.

He added that even with the UK leaving the European Union, he foresaw little change to policies in the UK on waste.

Can charity projects help?

Eric Giry, the agricultural counsellor at the French Embassy in London said that France had adopted a number of policies that included forcing retailers to team up with charities to donate food that would potentially be wasted to be used for those in need.

He said the aim of the French policies was to cut the 10 million tonnes of food worth €16 billion wasted each year. Of this amount 32 per cent is wasted on the farm and a third at commercial level.

He said the public policy aimed to educate in order to cut waste.

Paul Crewe, the head of sustainability, energy and engineering at the Supermarket chain Sainsbury’s told the forum that the retailer is investing £10 million to help reduce food waste through community projects by 50 per cent.

He said that while at present most food waste went through to production of energy with some then going to animal feed and a small proportion to charities for redistribution as food, the aim of the supermarket was to reverse the priorities and have donations to charities top the list.

He said the programme at Sainsbury’s is being led by a scheme in Swadlingcote which is seeing £1 million invested in new food waste education schemes over the next 10 years, with this project being rolled out to other regions and towns.

The aim to redistribute food that is normally thrown away or sent to energy creating projects was also backed by Mark Varney, the director of the food redistribution charity FareShare.

Mr Varney said that about 270,000 tonnes of surplus food from the UK food and drink industry could be redistributed to feed people each year.

Chris Preston, the Deputy Director of Waste and Recycling at Defra, told the forum that the problem of food waste has to be tackled for environmental, social, economic and moral reasons.

“We need to tackle food waste though the food chain hierarchy,” he said.

He said that while the waste in the supply chain has been reduced by 10 per cent over the last six years, there needs to be a more collaborative approach to see waste reduced further in the supply chain.

He said that through initiatives such as Courtauld 2025 the government hopes to see more food redistributed and he said that WRAP, the Food Standards Agency and Defra are also in consultations over food labelling to investigate ways that ensure less food is thrown away.

“The partnership and collaborative approach has to be the way to reduce food waste,” he said.

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