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Carrot approach won’t cut food waste, say MPs

The next government must set a national food waste target and force businesses to separate their food waste, according to a new report published by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

The cross-party group of MPs said supermarkets should also publicly report data on the amount of food they bin and relax the “unnecessary cosmetic standards” that prevent the sale of “wonky vegetables”.

They also urged WRAP to set a target for retailers to double redistribution of food waste. The next government should also consider additional fiscal measures to ensure more surplus food is redistributed.

An ongoing review into food date labelling should continue apace, the committee said, with a view to issuing new guidance by the end of the year. The focus should be on whether ‘best before’ dates should be scrapped.

In foodservice, the committee found that large portion sizes remained the main cause of waste. The incoming government must work with the hospitality sector to encourage it to examine ways of preventing plate wastage; smaller portions, clarity on the sides that arrive with a meal, reducing the amount of sides, and encouraging take-home service for leftovers, should all be considered, the MPs concluded.

Members were “disappointed” that many food manufacturers had not signed up to the voluntary Courtauld 2025 targets, led by WRAP. The committee raised concerns that DEFRA had cut WRAP’s budget in recent years and questioned whether it’s time for a new, regulatory approach.

Only Tesco and, to a lesser extent, Sainsbury’s have published food waste data from across their supply chains, for example. “The fact that no other retailers have followed their lead shows that a voluntary approach is inadequate,” explained committee chair Neil Parish. “The government needs to step in and force other major supermarkets to be transparent about food waste.”

An ambitious formal target would also influence the government’s approach to food waste, the committee said. Scotland has set a target already, but there are no signs that a conservative government in Westminster – current or future – would follow suit. During a Q&A as part of the committee’s inquiry, waste minister Thérèse Coffey said “we are not at the stage at which we need to be considering mandatory approaches”.

Some 10 million tonnes of food and drink waste arises post-farmgate each year, 60% of which could be avoided.