Less than 1% of surplus food from farms and manufacturers used to feed hungry

Less than 1% of edible surplus food produced by UK manufacturers and farms is being sent to charities to help feed the hungry, according to new figures.

Vegetables that are perfectly edible are being left to rot in the fields, and other foods not sold to retailers are put into anaerobic digestionAnaerobic gasification is a process performed by microorganisms in the absence of oxygen. or sent straight to landfill, the UK’s largest redistribution charity FareShare has warned.

While retailers and supermarkets have doubled the amount of surplus food sent to feed the needy in the last three years, a high volume of food that never makes it into the shops is being needlessly wasted elsewhere in the supply chain, it said.

In the 2016/17 financial year, retailers redistributed more than 5,389 tonnes of edible food to charities. The figure for farms, suppliers and manufacturers was just 3,067 tonnes out of an estimated 610,000 tonnes of surplus edible food.

According to the government’s wasteWaste consists of unwanted and thrown away goods that often still have value as fuel or raw material. advisory body Wrap, food waste at a supermarket level – any edible food that remains unsold – stands at just 2%, whereas 17% of edible food surplus found in manufacturers and on farms is lost.

The majority of food waste in the UK comes from households, making up 71% of the total. Manufacturing contributes 17% and hospitality and food service 9%.

FareShare said seasonal weatherWeather refers to the state of the atmosphere with regard to temperature, cloudiness, rainfall, wind, and other meteorological conditions. (UKCIP) fluctuations, order cancellations and overstocking – all unpredictable – helped created surplus food which manufacturers, distributors and farms were not always in a position to redistribute.

“It’s simply absurd that more than eight million people in the UK are living in food poverty, and yet vast quantities of perfectly good food goes to waste,” said FareShare chief executive Lindsay Boswell. “The food waste hierarchy states that any food that can be safely eaten by humans should be, but this simply isn’t happening.”

The so-called food hierarchy (a revised EU waste framework directive) states that if edible food surplus cannot be prevented, it should feed people first, then go to animal feed, then be composted or sent to anaerobic digestion and finally to landfill.

FareShare said it redistributed enough surplus food in 2016/17 to feed almost half a million people a week through 6,723 frontline charities and community groups across the UK. These include homeless hostels, holiday hunger schemes, breakfast clubs, and refuges for women and their families experiencing domestic violence.

Supermarkets have realised that their customers don’t want to see them throwing away good food that could go to charity instead, and in the last few years they’ve made huge strides forward to address this,” Boswell added. “But supermarket waste is the tiny tip of a very big iceberg. Away from the shelves waste is much, much less visible. We’re talking about the manufacturers and distribution centres where perfectly edible food is being used as fuel or sent to landfill rather than to charities, or farms where vegetables that could go to feed hungry people are being left to rot in the fields.”

A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said: “FDF recognises and supports the vital role charities play in supporting communities across the country and is working to reduce waste wherever possible in the food supply chain. Recent results published by FDF and Wrap show that FDF members participating in the latest waste survey reduced the amount of food and packaging waste to effectively zero in 2015 (the latest year for which figures are available). Based on survey responses, this indicates around 96.6% of the total food processed was sold as intended, with around a further 1% redistributed to people or diverted to animal feed and the remaining 2.4% underwent some form of waste treatment.”

The UK’s largest retailer, Tesco, last week released its annual food waste figures, showing that the amount of good quality, in-date surplus food redistributed to charities increased from 2,303 tonnes to 5,700 tonnes – almost 150%.

In April it was announced that UK food banks handed out a record number of meals in 2016 after the chaotic introduction of universal credit – the government’s flagship welfare overhaul – left claimants unable to afford meals when their benefits were delayed. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, announced that it provided 1,182,954 three-day emergency food parcels to people in crisis in 2016-17, up 6.4% on the previous year’s total of 1,109,000.

“It’s never anyone’s intention to create surplus food,” Boswell added. “What’s important is that it’s identified quickly and sent to the people who need it. Producing food is a hugely resource intensive process, which is why we’re calling on even more manufacturers to do the right thing and ensure that their surplus food goes to feed people first.”

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