On Wednesday, straight after PMQs or later if there’s a statement or UQ (urgent question) first, I will be introducing a Ten Minute Rule Bill on food waste.
It’s got cross-party support: the sponsors are Zac Goldsmith, Laura Sandys and Henry Smith from the Tories, Andrew George from the Lib Dems, Caroline Lucas from the Green Party and Luciana Berger, Rob Flello, Kate Green, Joan Ruddock, Joan Walley, annd Alan Whitehead from Labour. They’re not the only MPs who have pledged their support, but they’re the named sponsors, chosen because they’ve got a particular interest in this or related topics. Laura Sandys, for example, is running an ‘Ugly Foods’ campaign to encourage shops to sell and people to consume wonky carrots, misshapen potatoes, etc. Zac Goldsmith was involved in meeting stakeholders with me at an early stage, and in helping shape the Bill. Rob Flello chairs the APPG on Agro-Ecology and introduced the Sustainable Livestock Bill. Joan Walley chairs the Environmental Audit Committee, and so on.
The Bill is also backed by Friends of the Earth, WWF-UK and the TV chef Lorraine Pascale, as well as charities/ campaigns involved directly with the food waste issue, such as FareShare, FoodCycle and Feeding the 5000. Tristram Stuart, the author of “Waste: uncovering the global food scandal” will be speaking at the parliamentary launch tomorrow, as will Kelvin Cheung from Food Cycle and someone from the Food Donation Connection, which is a huge US food charity. I keep getting emails from people who want to attend, such as the Sustainable Restaurant Association; it’s really great to know that so much good work is already going on out there.
The Bill calls for three things:
1. A legal obligation on large supermarkets and large manufacturers to donate a proportion of their surplus food for redistribution to charities, which redistribute it to individuals in food poverty. Food which is unfit for human consumption should be made available for livestock feed in preference to disposal. This is in line with the ‘food waste hierarchy’, which is this:
2. All other businesses and public bodies which generate food waste – from small food retailers to restaurants to local authorities – to be encouraged to donate a greater proportion of their surplus for redistribution.
3. A UK version of US legislation, The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, which protects good faith food donors and recipient agencies/foodbanks from civil and criminal liability, except in cases of gross negligence and/or intentional misconduct.
I met the Defra Minister, Lord Tayor, and his food waste team (it’s good he has one) last week and he enthused about how this was an issue that is very much on the Government’s agenda. He’s visiting FoodCycle and FareShare very soon. He wasn’t convinced there was a need for legislation at this stage, not even the Good Samaritan provision – but has promised to look into how that works in the US; as I told him, it’s made a major difference.
I’ll blog a bit more about the reasons behind introducing the Bill, as and when time allows. To put it very bluntly: obscene amounts of perfectly good food is being wasted, and there are good environmental reasons (avoiding landfill, promoting sustainable farming rather than production on an industrial scale, cutting emissions – at present 10% of rich countries’ greenhouse gas emissions come from growing food that is never eaten ) and social reasons (tackling the ever growing problem of food poverty) to act.
Retailers say that they are already taking action. Some are certainly better than others; some are very poor. The UK’s targets for waste prevention are very low, and progress against those targets is slow. The retailers also say that much of the problem lies with consumers, which is partly true, but that’s exacerbated by their Buy One Get One Free offers, and misleading sell-by dates and such like. Those issue are already starting to be addressed by government.
The fact remains, retailers and manufacturers waste a staggering 3.6 million tonnes of food per annum. Only around 10,000 tonnes is redistributed; around 1-3% of retail food waste, and an even smaller percentage from manufacturers. FareShare redistributed 3,600 tonnes of food last year, feeding 35,500 people per day. They could feed a lot more, if they were allowed to get their hands on more of the food that is currently going to waste.