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Tackling food loss and surplus in primary production

Around a third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted – a fact that I still find hard to comprehend, says Peter Maddox, WRAP director.

This has massive economic, social, and environmental impacts, which is why WRAP has been working to prevent food waste, at home and abroad, for well over a decade.

 

At home, we are helping the UK Government deliver its commitment to halve food waste by 2030, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.

 

In the UK alone, around 9.5 million tonnes of food is wasted from farm to fork every year, worth over £19 billion a year. Waste on such a scale is clearly unsustainable. With nearly a billion people across the world going hungry every day, I think it is also morally indefensible to keep wasting this food.

 

And this is why, at WRAP, we are implementing a strategy to reduce waste across the entire food chain.


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The principal vehicle for our food waste work is the Courtauld Commitment 2025, a voluntary agreement focused on cutting the environmental impact of the UK’s food and drink by one-fifth by 2025.

 

To deliver this ambitious objective, the commitment brings together businesses across the entire supply chain from producers and manufacturers through to retailers, and provides them with the inspiration, roadmaps, tools and guidance they need to tackle their food waste.

 

Food Waste Reduction Roadmap

 

One of these is our ground-breaking Food Waste Reduction Roadmap.

 

Developed jointly with IGD, and launched in September 2018, the Roadmap asks food businesses to commit to ‘Target-Measure-Act’ – to set food waste reduction targets in their businesses, then act to implement the principles for food waste measurement to reduce waste.

 

I am pleased that over 150 companies have now signed up.

 

As part of this Roadmap, we have already produced practical guidance for several sectors, including meat, dairy and fresh produce.

 

But what about primary production?

 

Our latest estimates suggest that around 1.6 million tonnes of food waste arise on farms each year, in addition to 2 million tonnes of surplus food. That’s 3.6 million tonnes of food waste and surplus, with a market value of more than £1 billion.

 

Horticultural crops make up 54 per cent of the total, cereals 30 per cent, livestock 8 per cent and milk 8 per cent.

 

Farm businesses

 

So that is why I am delighted that we are extending the reach of the Roadmap and our ‘Target-Measure-Act’ methodology to this sector.

 

Farm businesses told us that they wanted to understand their levels of food waste and surplus but were unclear about how to do it. Guidance and advice will now be available.

 

Practical guide

 

These new resources are simple and practical to use and include separate guides for hand-harvested and machine-harvested crops, and a field record sheet and reporting template, which growers can take to the field to record their measurements.

 

While there is no obligation to use it, we wanted to provide smaller farm businesses with a step-by-step methodology which they can pick up and use straight out of the box, without having to spend the time developing their own.

 

We all recognise that controlling food waste and surplus is not a simple matter, what with ever more unpredictable weather conditions and increasing challenges over access to suitable labour. But we know that it is possible to tackle this issue.

 

For example, where WRAP has worked with growers to measure food waste in primary production, we’ve found huge variability, showing that some growers are already excelling in preventing food waste.

 

Benchmark

 

Not only does providing benchmark data help growers to see how they compare to other farmers, it catalyses collaboration to improve productivity and reduce food waste. Using a consistent methodology is essential to accurate benchmarking and reporting.

 

Every business in the UK has a role to play. The good news is that we are making progress - between 2015 and 2018, annual food and drink waste reduced by nearly 500,000 tonnes.

 

Addressing food waste and surplus in primary production will help us go a lot further.

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