Feeding Britain: Supermarket sweep…it into the bin

Food waste

About 4.3 million tonnes of ‘surplus’ food is thrown away every year

In our post ‘Food poverty and food waste: a shameful paradox’, we explored the true extent of food bank Britain, and how hunger and food poverty has swelled alongside the growth of food waste, painting a scandalous and senseless dichotomy. Now a report by the All-Parliamentary Group on Hunger has confirmed the unpalatable truth, unmasking the reliance of food banks by poor families across the country and the shocking levels of waste committed by supermarkets.

The report condemns the wastage of food by saying it is “indefensible that huge numbers of people are going hungry in a country which wastes such vast quantities of food that is fit for consumption.”

More than four million tonnes of food is being wasted by supermarkets, while seven million tonnes is thrown away annually by families up and down the country – these revelations prompt urgent questions: why do we have such a listless attitude and disregard to food waste and how can so much hunger unravel on such a stark scale when perfectly edible food is being consigned to the landfill and left to rot?

It seems immoral and illogical that supermarkets are consigning shockingly vast volumes of edible fruit, vegetables, bread, meat and milk to the landfill, or are burning it for energy at the taxpayers expense, all because the food doesn’t meet the cosmetic demands for the consumer. Surely these large quantities of surplus food could be intercepted and redistributed, rather than being dumped and buried underground, both a costly and environmentally destructive process.

Positively, plenty of food waste initiatives are actively tackling this problem and the interception and redistribution of waste is taking place all over the UK, but according to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger report, just 0.1 per cent of all “surplus” food fit for human consumption is donated to food banks and other schemes to help the poor, compared to nearly 32 per cent in the United States.

Ludicrous ‘best before’ and ‘use-by’ dates twinned with skewed cosmetic standards demanded by supermarkets, are causing the colossal loss of fresh food, with some farmers losing up to 20% of their carrot harvest thanks to retailers refusing to accept ‘misshapen vegetables’ – something ‘Wonky Veg’ are evidently impassioned about.

In total, retailer discard 0.4 million tonnes of food while producers send 3.9 million tonnes to landfill or spreading a year.

The damning report also claimed that Supermarket giant Morrisons binned 10,000 Cornish pasties after the delivery driver arrived 17 minutes late for collection. Don Gardner, a food bank manager from Cornwall, told the inquiry:

“I had 9,864 Cornish pasties [offered to me] because the lorry was seventeen minutes late to Morrisons. That shouldn’t happen – I was also offered 30,000 spring greens the other day because they were going to be ploughed back into the field. I couldn’t have them because I didn’t have anywhere to put them”.

This is utterly scandalous and deplorable.

With this inquiry putting both hunger and the moral argument of food waste on the agenda, hopefully supermarkets will radically transform the way they sell and dispose of their food, and if shaming them is only way to do that, then so be it. Their skewed demands for cosmetic perfection, ludicrous use-by labelling, as well as their systematic disposal of perfectly good food cannot continue, especially at the height of this crisis of hunger.


4.3 million: tonnes of surplus food produced by the retail and manufacturing sectors each year.

Only 2 per cent of that goes to charities to feed the hungry.

400,000: tonnes of surplus food, the majority fresh items such as vegetables, meat and dairy products which is discarded each year which could be fit for human consumption.

3.7 million: tonnes of surplus food sent to landfill, landspreading, thermal treatment or other means of disposal.

5,800: tonnes of surplus food currently redistributed to charity organisations.

11,000: tonnes of surplus food which is currently sold to companies which sell them on at low-cost.

3 million tonnes of food waste arising at farm level.

9,864: number of Cornish pasties offered to a food bank in Cornwall because a lorry was 17 minutes late delivering them to Morrisons supermarket.

30,000: number of heads of spring greens rejected by a Food Bank because it had nowhere to store them.

10: tonnes of tomatoes rejected by a branch of Tesco in Kent because they were too big.

1: percentage of surplus food which is donated for human consumption in the UK by retailers and wholesalers.

32: percentage of surplus food which is donated for human consumption in the USA by retailers and wholesalers.

19,000: tonnes of fresh food estimated to be sent for anaerobic digestion.

300,000: tonnes of fruit and vegetables saved in 2012 following launch of “Ugly Fruit” campaign, which argues food should not be discarded for cosmetic reasons, according to NFU.

20: percentage of carrot harvest saved from being discarded by one major supplier as a result of Ugly Fruit campaign.

400,000: tonnes of surplus food could be fit for human consumption, according to FareShare – mostly fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy.


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