Supermarket “best before” labels could be phased out while shops should be forced to sell oddly shaped vegetables under proposals from MPs who have warned the government it needs to do more to tackle food waste.
More than £10bn worth of food is thrown away by households each year, according to a damning report from the environment, food and rural affairs select committee.
The committee, whose report Food Waste in England is published on Sunday, said the government should set an “ambitious” national reduction target to cut food waste, which costs the average person £200 a year. Raising awareness of food waste from a young age should be a priority and the government should examine how lessons on food and avoiding waste can be incorporated into the school curriculum, they said.
“Socially, it is a scandal that people are going hungry and using food banks when so much produce is being wasted,” said Neil Parish, chair of the committee. “And environmentally it is a disaster, because energy and resources are wasted in production only for the food to end up rotting in landfills where it produces methane – a potent climate-changing gas.”
The report says supermarkets should be forced to publish data on the amount of food they bin. The MPs commended Tesco for already publishing this information and praised Sainsbury’s for moving in the same direction. However, they said retailers should increase the amount of surplus food they give away to charities – instead of binning so much – and should also improve their packaging, for example by using more resealable packets.
In addition, the incoming government has been urged to continue with a review on food date labelling, looking particularly at whether there is a need for “best before” dates which can confuse people.
The committee expressed its dismay at the trend for supermarkets to sell only perfectly shaped vegetables and fruit. “It’s ridiculous that perfectly good vegetables are wasted simply because they’re a funny shape,” said Parish. “Farmers supplying fruits and vegetables to UK supermarkets currently get their produce rejected on the grounds that it fails to meet cosmetic quality standards set by the big retailers. Knobbly carrots and parsnips don’t cook or taste any different. It’s high time we saved them from the supermarket reject bins.”
Parish said the government should set a national target for food waste reduction in England, as Scotland, the US and European countries do. It was also essential that waste reduction body Wrap, which has seen its funding cut despite its success in reducing food waste through voluntary agreements, has sufficient money to maintain its efforts, he said.