24,242 tons of waste food redistributed to charities from supermarkets in the UK marks an improvement on four years ago, it pales when compared to France, Spain and Italy, where food surplus donations are four to five times higher. Every 1,000 tons of food redistributed translates into 2.4 million meals; and food waste increases pressure on water and land resources.
Data obtained from Carrefour, the second largest supermarket group in France with a 20 per cent market share, shows that in 2020 they donated 30,371 tons of food from their French supermarkets, the equivalent of 72 million meals – meaning a single French supermarket exceeded the donations of all 10 UK supermarkets by more than 6,000 tons.
One-third of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the food industry, food waste worldwide accounts for 3.3 gigatons of greenhouse gases per year. If the food industry was a single country, it would be the third biggest polluter in the world after the United States and China. The waste has several well established causes, including overproduction, poor stock management and supply-demand mismatching.
The UK government has chosen not to intervene and has allowed supermarkets and food manufacturers to regulate themselves. In European countries like Italy, supermarkets are given positive incentives in the form of tax breaks to up their food donations and reduce waste.
But in France, they use both, a combination of carrot and stick, rewarding donations with generous tax breaks and imposing legislation that makes it illegal for larger supermarkets to dump surplus food – imposing hefty fines if they don’t comply. This ground-breaking French legislation was promulgated in 2016 and transformed, almost overnight, the burden to redistribute surplus food. It led to French supermarkets installing proper systems and forming food donation partnerships with food redistributors, food banks and charities. Since then, food donations have soared.
Paul Morozzo, a senior forests campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “We cannot solve the climate or nature crisis without radically overhauling our food system to make it more efficient, sustainable and fair. Tinkering won’t do. We need regulation and laws to cut food waste.”
Friends of the Earth food campaigner, Clare Oxborrow, said: “For too long, there has been a problem at every level of the supply chain. If we fix this, we will prevent as much food waste as possible, leading to edible food surpluses going to food redistribution charities. Voluntary initiatives haven’t worked.”
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