Feeding the 5000 #foodwaste

Below is more or less the text of my speech in support of my Food Waste Bill today, give or take some ad-libbing. Thanks everyone for the support and interest. I should say, the Second Reading date of 27th April is a bit of a red herring… Parliament isn’t scheduled to have any more sitting Fridays (except 23rd March for an extra day of debate on the Budget) between now and the end of this parliamentary session, and even if it did the Bill would be too far down the running order to be reached. However.. this is just the start. The aim will be to resurrect the Bill in the new parliamentary session in May, and ideally persuade someone who does well in the Private Members’ Bill ballot to take it up. Another option would be to see if some or all of it could be included in the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. Or – the ideal solution – to persuade the Government to bring forward legislation itself and give it parliamentary time. Many MPs and others have been asking me what they can to campaign on this issue, and I’ll blog some suggestions soon… but urging the Government to bring forward the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, which addresses the commercial relationships between suppliers and supermarkets, is a pretty good thing to be doing in the meantime. (Will also blog in response to the MP who raised concern about the livestock feed provision in the Bill; she’s worrying unnecessarily but I will explain why, after I’ve been off to vote – the division bell is going! – and talk rail franchises with Bristol people who are in parliament today).

“I beg to move that leave be given to bring in a Bill to require large food retailers and large food manufacturers to take steps to reduce food waste and donate surplus food to charities for redistribution, and where food is unfit for human consumption, to make it available for livestock feed in preference over disposal; to encourage and incentivise all other businesses and public bodies which generate food waste to donate a greater proportion of their surplus for redistribution; to protect from civil and criminal liability food donors and recipient agencies where food has been donated in good faith; and for connected purposes.

The Bill is backed by Friends of the Earth, WWF-UK, FareShare, FoodCycle, Feeding the 5000, as well as the chef, Lorraine Pascale, and many others who have expressed their support over the past few days.

People are shocked by the scandalous amount of food that is wasted and, Mr Speaker, they want parliament to do something about it.

Many MPs have, I know, been visiting food banks in their constituencies recently, to see the excellent work they do, and we had a debate on food poverty in this Chamber a month or so ago. Now is not the time to debate why so many people are having to turn to food banks to feed themselves and their families – these are tough economic times, food prices are rising above the rate of inflation and many are struggling to make ends meet.

The charity FareShare is feeding 35,500 people per day; that’s 8.6 million meals a year. They’re supplying 67 different food banks and charities across Bristol alone. And there are many other organisations doing the same or similar, like the Trussell Trust who have 170 food banks and predict that up to half a million people will be reliant on food banks by 2015, and Food Cycle who get volunteers to run community cafes, making good nutritional meals at low cost or no cost for anyone who wants to drop by.

They’d be able to do much more of this great work if they could only get their hands on more food.

And yet at the moment, around 50% of edible, healthy food across the EU that could be eaten, is not. Globally, one billion people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe.

This Bill isn’t just about tackling food poverty. By creating ‘unnecessary demand’, waste is also helping to drive up global food prices. The surplus also puts pressure on scarce land and resources, contributes to deforestation and needlessly adds to global greenhouse gas emissions; 10% of rich countries’ greenhouse gas emissions come from growing food that is never eaten. The water used globally to irrigate wasted food would be enough for the domestic needs of 9 billion people – the number expected on the planet by 2050.

Government policy has focused on slightly environmentally better methods of disposal (such as anaerobic digestion and composting) ahead of landfill. But there is no government incentive for diverting surplus food from disposal and to those levels higher up the food waste pyramid – for human consumption, and where unfit for human consumption, livestock feed – which can properly justify the carbon footprint created in making that food.

I am well aware, Mr. Speaker, that much food waste – about half of it – is down to householders, but this sector is starting to see steady reductions – 13% over the last three years. Supermarkets and manufacturers can and have played a role in supporting this, for example for example Warburtons have removed ‘display until’ dates from their bread, Asda have introduced new resealable salad bags.

There is also a significant food waste problem at the start of the supply chain. Inequitable business tactics employed by some supermarkets with their suppliers – such as obliging them to accept the risk on unsold food are due to be addressed by the much delayed Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. I hope that Bill will be included in the Queen’s Speech and the Adjudicator will be given the teeth it needs to be effective.

So I am by no means saying that retailers and manufacturers are totally to blame. But they do waste a staggering 3.6 million tonnes of food per annum. Reasons for this include overproduction caused by inaccurate forecasting; labelling errors and barcode problems; a few damaged items meaning a whole tray of goods is rejected; expired promotional campaigns and seasonal offers. For example, any products with Olympics promotional offers will have to be off the shelves as soon as the Games are over.

It’s important to note that it’s not so-called “back of the store waste” that’s the main problem, by which I mean food that is on the shelves but isn’t sold and gets put in a skip out the back. By far the bigger problem is food that never makes it to the supermarkets or shop; that never even leaves the distribution centre. I’ve been told of one premium brand of breakfast cereal, for example, that isn’t put on the shelves if it has less than six months to run till its sell-by date. If the supermarket doesn’t need it from the distribution centre before then, it’s wasted even though it would be edible for at least six months and probably a lot longer.

The food industry’s progress under the Courtauld Agreement Phase II is slow. The Agreement set a relatively unambitious target of a 5% reduction of product and packaging waste in the grocery supply chain by December 2012. This already compares badly with the Norwegian and Dutch targets of 25% and 20%.

Despite the low hurdle, the work of WRAP, and the expenditure of millions of pounds of public money to subsidise big business’s waste-reduction efforts, the UK’s performance has been described by Tristram Stuart, the author of “Waste: uncovering the global food scandal” as “spectacularly dismal.”

Businesses have cut their food waste by a mere 0.4% in the first year. Unfortunately we only see figures published for the sector as a whole, but I believe that some companies are doing considerably better than others, showing that it is not impossible to make swift, dramatic reductions in food waste when a company takes the issue seriously.

As it stands, Mr. Speaker, it’s estimated that only 1-3% of the food that retailers could give to charities is actually donated, and an even smaller percentage from food manufacturers.

The Bill has three main provisions.

In 1996 in the USA a law was introduced, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act , which has also been replicated in every state of Australia, and which protects good faith donors and recipients such as foodbanks, from civil and criminal liability. This has made a huge different to the willingness of donors to donate food, as we heard yesterday at this Bill’s parliamentary launch from Jim Larson of Food Donation Connection, who works with companies such as Starbucks, KFC and Pizza Hut, arranging for their unsold food to be frozen and passed on to hostels, shelters and other charities . He said that the lack of liability protection was a “recurring theme in his discussions” with UK branches of US food companies, who cited this as their main barrier to donating. Exempting companies from liability in the USA has led to a surge in food donation.

I was grateful to the Defra Minister for attending my launch yesterday, and, as a consequence of what he heard, asking his officials to meet with Jim this morning to discuss the Good Samaritan law further. I must stress – this imposes no burden at all upon businesses; on the contrary, it frees them.

The Bill also calls for large retailers and manufacturers to be required to donate more of their surplus food to charities, and for government to encourage all other businesses and public bodies which generate food waste to do the same.

It basically enshrines in law the waste hierarchy that will have to be implemented by all businesses and public bodies by the end of 2013 under the latest EU Waste Framework Directive. This ranks measures according to their environmental impact, giving the first priority to preventing waste occurring in the first place, but when surplus does arise the next priority should be feeding humans, then livestock feed, and so on, onto disposal methods such as anaerobic digestion, composting and, worse of all, landfill.

As I said, it would apply to public bodies too, in terms of encouraging them to reduce and redistribute food waste. M. Speaker, the Houses of Parliament is, I’m told, one of the biggest catering outlets in the country. Answers to parliamentary questions have revealed that a huge amount of food – and that also means money – is wasted here.

I will be trying, Mr. Speaker, to persuade both Houses to sign up to an agreement for the hospitality sector, managed by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), as Government Departments have done. I have an offer, Mr. Speaker, from the Sustainable Restaurants Association to carry out a food audit of Parliament’s catering services, and to see how waste can be reduced, or redistributed. We need to put our own House in order if we expect others to do so too.

This is a Bill, Mr. Speaker, whose time has come. In tough times, when people are struggling to make ends meet and to put food on the table, the waste and profligacy in the food supply chain seems ever more obscene.

I am gratified by the number of MPs who have turned out today to support this Bill and I hope that we can achieve cross-party support on the need to move forward with this.”

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  • JDL  On March 14, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Thank you for sharing this great news! Kerry, I appreciate your leadership on food waste and liability protection. This is a HUGE first step toward the day when most wholesome food is donated to those in need, rather than loading landfills. Great job!

  • Mark Game  On March 15, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Great article and campaign but why is nobody talking about the market sector that thrives within the residual and waste sectors?

    There are a plethora of companies out their that obtain the waste from manufacturers and distribution centres that vastly mitigate the problems that Tristram and others highlight and yet they are ignored.

    Great cause but I really think the whole picture needs painting. The commercial market is a resourceful beast and where there is an opportunity, there’s an entrepreneur. After studying his book and assumptions, I do not believe that the food waste statistics quoted by Tristram do not account for the volumes of food waste that are ‘resold’ commercially. There is still a lot to do and the commercial market is not the bad guy here, they can help, so let them join the party!


  • By Friday Buffet on March 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    […] it being 2012, here’s the text of McCarthy’s speech to Parliament on her […]

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