Help us take bigger bites out of the food waste mountain

Between 60 and 70% of the calories that we burn every day are used just to keep our system working and our bodies warm. It’s only startling when you are stuck out on a mountain with nothing other than a pack of chewing gum for company. I like this comparison to fuel as it brings the whole food waste debate to life.

Neil Grundon, deputy chairman, Grundon Waste Management
Neil Grundon, deputy chairman, Grundon Waste Management

On Radio 4 recently I listened to perhaps the most depressing programme ever on the topic of fuel poverty. One of the interviewees proposed that if we could invent a ‘heat suit’ that would keep old people warm, then they would be able to turn off their central heating safe in the knowledge that by heating just themselves rather than their house, they would be able to afford food AND their energy bills.

It was shameful. Welcome to a society where throwing away food and refrigerating pensioners is all in perfect balance.

Wasting food is wasting energy, not just the calories that help keep us alive, but energy in production, distribution, storage, refrigeration, and cooking.

Kerry McCarthy Labour’s shadow Environment Minister set out to change this situation with her Food Waste (Reduction) Bill, which looks as though it may run out of parliamentary time.

I like Kerry, I shared a platform with her on a panel discussing food waste and, as well as an excellent taste in music, she has a firm grip of her subject.

I also like the Government’s Environment Minister, Rory Stewart. In Parliament, he praised Kerry for her campaign, but I guess because he sits on the other side of the House, he has to find something wrong with what she is saying.

In France, they’ve taken Kerry’s theme one step further, becoming the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying good quality, unsold food. Instead, they now have to donate it to charities and food banks or face a substantial fine.

The new law came after a campaign by shoppers, anti-poverty campaigners and those opposed to food waste and, not surprisingly, it has been welcomed by food banks.

Regular Grundon followers will know we’re supporting Oxford Food Bank throughout 2016, raising funds for the charity and encouraging businesses to discount and distribute food before taking the disposal route.

Kerry’s bill would put an obligation on supermarkets and manufacturers to reduce their food waste by 30 per cent by 2025. Surely this is a no brainer?

Unfortunately, I now fear that the Conservatives will never be as bold as they were in bringing in the Landfill Tax, or even after nearly 20 years beginning to reform it.

Which is a shame, given that the word ‘conserve’ is at the very heart of their name, and that Margaret Thatcher, a trained chemist, was the first world leader to mention global warming in a speech.

I guess that the Conservative response to something such as the French move, is that they believe in small government and don’t like banning things. If that is the case then why not do without the environment all together?

China has recently attempted this approach, and is now looking to the West for help.

The UK enacted the Clean Air Act in 1956 and the Control of Pollution Act in 1974 and British companies lead the world in environmental technology. This did not happen by accident, it is because the UK placed a value on the environment, and then derived a return from that value.

Politicians can argue to what extent they want to legislate or how much they wish to tax, but they should not ignore those industries whose work depends on firmly enforced law. They need to champion our legislative environment when making the case for British companies abroad.

I don’t think the Government has fully realised the value that can be achieved by introducing successful environmental legislation which will allow UK companies to prosper and grow in this sector.

We might not need to go as far as the French just yet, but with the right support, we can certainly take bigger bites out of the food waste mountain.

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