Food Waste and Why Food Redistribution Matters

Food is the thread that weaves together the fabric of our families, communities, and societies. It sustains life. In a world where technology often disconnects us, food has the power to bring us together. It is a remedy for loneliness. But with 11 million people in the UK experiencing food insecurity, and charities struggling to help, it is time to address the scandal of food waste. This demands a concerted effort across all sectors – government, industry, farmers, and consumers – to transform wasteful practices into opportunities for social good and economic benefits. We can turn surplus into sustenance, ensuring that no one goes hungry, while simultaneously safeguarding our resources and planet for future generations.

It is a sad fact that 4.6 million tonnes of edible food – enough to feed everyone in the country for almost two months – goes to waste every year. If we include food waste at the farm gate, we throw away over 11 million tonnes of food per year. This is valued at over £20 billion. The overall land use associated with food wasted on UK farms alone amounts to almost the size of Wales, and by eliminating avoidable food waste, the average four-person household could save around £1000 per year.

Food waste is a social, financial and environmental issue. Wasted food is a waste of the land used to grow it that could be better used to reach other societal objectives, such as nature recovery. Policy interventions are absolutely essential to meet the government’s goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030.

The first step for food chain operators to take meaningful food waste reduction action is to actually measure current levels of food waste, and publicly report them so they can act to eliminate waste. I support a regulatory approach to food waste reporting for large food businesses, because what isn’t measured can’t be reduced so it is a vital first step.

Retailers and manufacturers practices have a significant impact on household food waste, for example through packaging, date labelling and multi-buy offers. The biggest reason for household waste in 2022 was food rejected as it was past the ‘use by’ date on the label. Removing unnecessary ‘use by’ stickers on fresh produce and selling more fruit and veg uncut and free of packaging prolongs shelf life and enables customers to only buy what they need, whilst also reducing packaging waste. And yes, as individual consumers, we need to change our shopping habits and not be tempted by BOGOF deals and multi-packs of foods we then waste.

Technology will also have an ever-growing role to play in combatting surplus food going to waste from local businesses. In my constituency we have saved 56,119 meals from the bin using the Too Good To Go app.

48% of all food loss which occurs is pre-harvest, through food left on fields. Farmers currently lack incentives to redistribute this food and instead it is left to rot or sent to landfill or anaerobic digestion. The government’s subsidy regime gives out £750 million each year to the anaerobic digestion industry every year. But 64,500 tonnes of the food processed by anaerobic digestion plants is perfectly good surplus food.

FareShare, the UK’s largest food redistribution charity, take edible surplus food from more than 500 businesses, and redistribute it to people in need through a UK-wide network of almost 11,000 frontline charities. They are keen to do more, and the demand is there. Our local food banks and community based kitchens (often based in faith settings) support the most in need with redistributed food products. I am always humbled, when visiting volunteer-run local organisations, to witness how those who have little help those who have less.

The National Food Strategy independent review highlighted the need to rethink our approach to food production, consumption and distribution. Vast potential remains for surplus redistribution. By raising awareness of the need to tackle food waste, and creating a policy space that empowers businesses, we are encouraging innovative and supportive investment. So, as we celebrate the joys and the connections food fosters, let us also pledge to combat food waste and extend the spirit of sharing surplus with those in need in every community.

Jo Gideon MP

Jo Gideon is the Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, and was elected in 2019.