Supermarkets should ditch their “ridiculous” cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables and sell “wonky” produce to combat the country’s growing food waste problem, a government committee has said.
‘Best before’ date labels should also be reconsidered as it’s revealed that more than £10 billion worth of food is thrown away in British households every year, MPs said.
A report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, published on Sunday, reveals the extent of England’s food waste problem, with supermarkets being criticised for not doing enough to tackle the issue.
One third of food for human consumption is lost or wasted globally.
The desire for food to look a particular way can mean that “perfectly good vegetables are wasted simply because they’re a funny shape”, the report said.
Neil Parish, committee chairman, said: “Food waste has grotesque economic, social and environmental costs.
“Economically, food waste costs households hundreds of pounds a year and causes increased disposal costs to local authorities, pushing up council tax bills.
“Socially it is a scandal that people are going hungry and using food banks when so much produce is being wasted. 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 inquiry was launched into food waste in England in July 2016, focusing on consumers, the retail and hospitality sectors and local government.
Supermarkets were lambasted for discriminating against foods that are fit for human consumption “but do not meet artificial cosmetic standards”.
It is estimated that up to a quarter of apples, a fifth of onions, and 13% of potatoes are rejected on cosmetic grounds.
“Retailers have set unnecessary cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables. The result of this is that these wonky vegetables are either not being sold or are being sold at discounted prices,” the report said. “Supermarkets’ standards are contributing to England’s food waste problem.”
The committee recommended that retailers relax their quality standards and begin selling wonky vegetables alongside their main fruit and vegetable lines.
Supermarkets were also criticised for not being transparent about their food waste.
Parish said: “We commend Tesco for publishing its food waste data from across the supply chain. Sainsbury’s is moving in the same direction but needs more transparency.
“The fact that no other retailers have followed their lead shows that a voluntary approach is inadequate.
“The Government needs to step in and force other major supermarkets to be transparent about food waste.
“We welcome the will shown by retailers to redistribute surplus food. However, we believe that more must be done.
“There is a huge amount of surplus food that is currently not being redistributed.”
A spokesperson for Asda said the company does not send any food waste to landfill but sends it to food charity partner FareShare or turns it into pet food or converts into energy at an anaerobic digestion plant.
Lidl and M&S said they have partnerships with Neighbourly, which connects charities with stores in order to redistribute unwanted food.
None of the supermarkets addressed concerns from MPs that they were not being “transparent” about their food waste.
Morrisons, Waitrose and Aldi did not respond to HuffPost UK’s request for comment.
The committee urged that supermarkets publicly report data regarding the amount of food they bin and relax the rules that may prevent the sale of wonky vegetables.
In 2015, £13 billion of food was wasted in the UK, costing the average household £470 a year – or those with children £700.
The report said that WRAP estimates that, by weight, household food waste makes up 71% of the UK post-farmgate total.
MPs said that awareness of food waste should begin at an early age and recommended that the government examines how lessons on food and food waste can be incorporated into the curriculum.
The committee stressed that members were concerned that funding for WRAP had been “reduced over the years” and called on the government to provide the group with “sufficient public funding... to enable it to maintain its food waste reduction programmes”.
A WRAP spokesperson said the report highlighted the importance of tackling food waste in the home, supply chain and in the retail and hospitality sectors.
When asked by HuffPost UK, WRAP refused to comment on how much funding it currently receives from the Government and how much the organisation would like to see funding increased by in order to achieve the objectives set by the committee.
The committee also called for a review into whether there is a need for ‘best before’ dates to be printed on packaging.
Consumers are getting confused about the difference between ‘used by’ dates, which refers to safety, and ‘best before’ dates, which correspond to quality, the committee said.
Supermarkets were told they needed to do “much more”.
“It’s ridiculous that perfectly good vegetables are wasted simply because they’re a funny shape,” the committee’s report said.
“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 added: “The best thing we can do is to prevent raw materials, ingredients and products from becoming waste in the first place.”