EVGENY LEBEDEV: There is an obvious way to cut down on food waste… feed the poor and hungry 

EVGENY LEBEDEV: There is an obvious way to cut down on food waste… feed the poor and hungry

I applaud The Mail on Sunday’s campaign to reduce food waste. It is a scandal how much food is thrown away by Britons, especially considering the resulting emissions and soaring levels of food poverty. But families and individual households are not solely to blame. I want to alert readers to a food waste scandal going on elsewhere.

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Each year, the UK food industry generates an astounding 220,000 tons of edible waste. That’s the equivalent of 550 million meals.

Vast quantities of this surplus end up in landfill or incinerators creating, as The Mail on Sunday reveals today, vast amounts of harmful greenhouse emissions.

And, as reported by the Independent, companies involved in anaerobic digestion, which recycles food waste to produce electricity, received £750 million in government subsidies this year. 

While better than simply sending to landfill or burning it, this still represents a wasted opportunity. Surely another obvious destination for the edible surplus thrown away by restaurants and retailers is all those who tragically go hungry.

Each year, the UK food industry generates an astounding 220,000 tons of edible waste

Our neighbours in France have a much smarter solution for food waste. Over there, major food companies are legally obliged to offer their edible surplus to charities before they can dispose of it in any other way. The result? Ten times as much food reaches hungry French people than is the case in the UK.

Our food redistribution charities receive no regular government support. And legislation protecting donors from any possible legal repercussions if their food harms anyone (the so-called Good Samaritan Law) has not made it through Parliament yet.

This makes no environmental, social or ethical sense at all and it must change. I myself have seen the brilliant work that food redistribution charities like FareShare and The Felix Project do, helping community organisations and volunteers to feed those in need in their local area – the Government should recognise that.

But the food giants can play their part, too.

Earlier this month, leading food companies teamed up with England forward Marcus Rashford to launch a task force calling on the Government to take action on child hunger. These companies sometimes lecture consumers about how we can reduce our own food waste.

Yet if they are serious about addressing food poverty and the huge environmental damage caused by food waste, then perhaps the likes of supermarkets and food manufacturers can start by doing something about their disappointing record with their own surplus. Just seven per cent of the food sector’s surplus reaches charities.

Will they put their money where their mouths are and prioritise donations of their surplus food for hungry children and others over any other form of disposal?

This summer, the Evening Standard-backed ‘Felix’s Kitchen’ will open in Tower Hamlets, which has a higher rate of child poverty than any area in the European Union. Run by The Felix Project, the kitchen will use surplus food to prepare thousands of meals for local children during the holiday period and beyond. I’m sure it would welcome any help that can be given by industry.

And perhaps the Government will soon decide to incentivise them to do the best thing for society and for the environment, rather than spending so much money to prevent this from happening.

  • Evgeny Lebedev is the owner of the Evening Standard and a supporter of The Felix Project.

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