Food security: demand, consumption and waste report published

The Food security: demand, consumption and waste report published today by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee calls on food retailers and government to do more to help consumers to choose healthy food options from sustainable sources.

Chair’s comments

Committee Chair, Anne McIntosh MP commented:

“With the impacts of climate change and rising world populations putting increasing pressure on food supplies, ensuring everyone can access affordable, healthy food presents a growing challenge for the UK.The myriad choices millions of people make every day on what food to buy and from where to buy it must be harnessed to support national food policy goals, not through increased regulation but through better information from retailers and central and local government. For example consumers should be encouraged to buy British products, since British food production forms a vital component of a secure supply system.

Further, with shoppers typically spending only a few seconds deciding what product to buy, the food industry and retailers can better help consumers to buy food from sustainable sources through providing clearer and more informative information. Defra should commission research to support improved labelling and retailers must be pro-active in providing in-depth product information online and in-store.

With the UK facing a health crisis linked to poor nutrition MPs recommend that retailers and the food industry provide better consumer information to help people choose healthier diets. Children and adults are eating 50% more saturated fat and children eat 50% more sugar than recommended levels.
Poor diet in over consumption

Despite efforts to promote healthy eating, the UK is still experiencing high levels of health problems linked to poor diet, in particular over consumption. We need joined-up action across government and by local government and retailers to promote healthy food choices, which will deliver national economic and social benefits as well as improving individuals’ health.
Surplus food and food waste

Nine million tonnes of the UK’s annual 15 million tonnes of food waste could have been eaten at some point. Supporting the work of the Waste and Resources Action Programme to tackle this, MPs call on the Government to ensure the organisation remains adequately funded.

The report also welcomes work by organisations such as Plan Zheroes to redistribute surplus food: yet of some 400,000 tonnes which is still edible when it is discarded, only 2% is redistributed. The report calls on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to lead a joined-up national approach that saves and redistributes surplus food from all parts of the supply chain. Defra should appoint a Food Security Co-ordinator, one of whose key roles would be to bring together key agencies to develop effective systems to distribute far greater volumes of food that would otherwise go to waste.
Level of waste is unacceptable

The work of charities and supermarkets to redistribute surplus food via foodbanks is commendable but the amount redistributed is pitifully small compared to the amount of good food that currently goes to waste. Nine million tonnes of avoidable food waste goes into bins each year, yet a considerable proportion is fit for consumption when it is discarded: this level of waste is unacceptable economically, socially and environmentally.

The Government should set up a task force to co-ordinate national work by charities, councils, retailers, food producers and manufacturers to establish an effective redistribution network across the country.”

Further research

The report also recommends that Defra commission further research into the scale of ‘food insecurity’ in Britain to plug a data gap and calls on local councils, working closely with retailers, to use the planning system to promote healthy communities through the location of food stores that enable all to buy healthy food locally at affordable prices.

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