Lords report urges improved supply-chain relationships to reduce level of food waste

A House of Lords report has called for ways to improve the often wasteful nature of the relationships between farmers and growers and their retail customers.

The Counting the Cost of Food Waste report from the Lords EU Committee recommended shared financial responsibility between producers and retailers; much wider use of long-term contracts that do not encourage overproduction; whole-crop purchasing; and improvements to forecasting.

Food service giant Sodexo's submission to the inquiry argued that long-term contracts between producers and retailers establish an ordering pattern that encourages confidence among producers and can prevent overproduction as well as over-ordering.

While acknowledging the need for producers to meet EU standards on produce, additional demands from retailers on weight, size and appearance "can result in significant food waste pre-farm gate if crops are rejected", the report says. Depending on prevailing market conditions such produce cannot easily be sold elsewhere, it adds.

The NFU's submission highlighted the practice of retailers demanding that Gala apples be coloured at least 50 per cent red, leading to typical waste of around 20 per cent of the crop, which may not find a market for juicing if prices are too low.

Campaign group Feeding the 5,000 pointed out that such onerous standards can lead to up to 40 per cent of some crops remaining unharvested - a practice that it described as "indefensible".

Supermarket chain Tesco argued that customers "always pick the cream of the crop first" and claimed that to stock imperfect produce would actually "drive waste".

The British Retail Consortium called for more use of "whole-crop" contracts, where the customer is responsible for finding a market for all grades of produce. A WRAP case study in potatoes suggested this approach could cut waste by more than 20 per cent, the report notes.

Morrisons argued that it is better able to manage and reduce food waste through having greater control of the supply chain, such as owning its own packhouses, which can put substandard produce to other product uses.

The report also welcomes the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, urging a UK-style Grocery Supply Code of Practice to be implemented across the EU.

Big retailer action

"There is much that can be done by the big retailers to reduce food waste. We are urging them to look again at offers such as 'buy one get one free', which can encourage excess consumption that leads to food waste. We also think supermarkets must work much more closely with their suppliers so as not to cancel pre-ordered food that has been grown, is perfectly edible and is then ploughed straight back into the field."

Baroness Scott of Needham Market - Chairman of agriculture subcommittee of Lords EU Committee, which held the inquiry

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