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Hidden food waste

New report shines spotlight on millions of tonnes of edible food going to waste on UK farms
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Food left to go to waste

A new report from WWF, in partnership with Tesco, has estimated that almost 3 million tonnes of edible food – valued at £1.8 billion and equivalent to 6.9 billion meals, or over 18 million meals a day – goes to waste on UK farms each year.
Published today (30 October), the Hidden Waste report shows the substantial environmental footprint of on-farm food waste, which accounts for around 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from UK farming.

In terms of wasted natural resources, producing this food requires an area of land nearly half the size of Wales.  

A ‘hidden crisis’

Given the scale of estimated food waste on UK farms, which has historically been excluded from industry and government data, WWF and Tesco are calling for urgent action from UK governments and food businesses to ensure greater transparency around on-farm food waste and to support farmers in tackling this ‘hidden crisis’.   

As a key step, WWF and Tesco are calling for mandatory reporting of on-farm food waste, specifically for medium and large farm businesses, to establish the full scale of the problem and to make it possible to track – and accelerate – reductions in years to come, by informing policy decisions to ensure they support farmers to drive down waste. 

‘At a time when people up and down the country are struggling to put food on the table it is unfathomable that millions of tonnes of food is going to waste on UK farms each year. This hidden crisis shows why we need urgent action to fix our broken food system.  

‘Given the cascade of benefits that tackling food waste on farms could bring – from bolstering our food security to helping address the climate crisis – UK Government and businesses across the food sector must take urgent action to support farmers in slashing food loss and waste on farms, as part of wider efforts to drive down waste across the food system.
‘At the same time, ministers must reaffirm the Government’s commitment to incentives that will drive a UK-wide shift to nature friendly farming, helping to future-proof our food system and bring our world back to life.’

Executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF

Slashing on-farm food waste

The report and accompanying ‘roadmap’ set out how data on on-farm food waste can be used to inform changes to retailer and government policies, which often drive on farm food waste.

For example, crops can be lost before they are harvested due to labour shortages, or because late-notice changes to orders mean there is a risk a harvested crop will remain unsold, which would leave farmers out of pocket. To avoid this risk, crops are sometimes left in the ground. 

The report sets a target of halving on-farm food waste by 2030, and highlights the potential benefits such reductions could bring, including the ‘significant role’ this could play in improving UK food security, driving down emissions and boosting farmers’ profits.

‘It’s completely unacceptable that good food goes to waste, and never more so than at a time when families face rising costs and far too many people are struggling to put food on the table. It’s why we’ve worked hard to tackle the issue of food waste in our own business, recently announcing that we will accelerate our plans to halve food waste in our own operations by 2025, five years ahead of our original goal. 
‘We want to support our farmers and suppliers to do the same, encouraging them to Target, Measure, Act and follow the lead of 107 of our suppliers who have collectively cut food loss and waste by 78,000 tonnes. 
‘Today’s report by the Tesco-WWF partnership plays a critical role in shining a light on hidden food waste. With ongoing environmental and economic challenges affecting the food system, we hope it will challenge our industry to understand the underlying drivers of on-farm waste and help us to work together to resolve it.’

Quality director at Tesco

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