The Industry Must Act on Auditing Food Waste

The food industry is responsible for generating approximately 50% of the 18–20 million tons of food wasted in the UK every year.

food-wasteI have encountered food waste in large quantities at every stage of the supply chain in the UK. Both public and private sector policymakers are now starting to respond to evidence of the vast quantities of food being wasted, but change is slow.

The problem is that avoidable waste comes at a cost to society and the environment. In the UK food poverty is on the rise, and globally one in eight people do not have enough to eat. Meanwhile, the food industry consumes large amounts of natural resources while contributing to climate change. So cutting food waste will reduce hunger and greenhouse-gas emissions, whilst lessening demand on our shared natural resources such as land and water supplies.

We humans are united through the common experience of eating. This vital act ties us to the natural world. Natural resources – including water, soil, organic matter, land and ecosystems – underpin the production and consumption of food, and all resources are under increasing pressure.

Global agriculture is estimated to contribute 12–14% of greenhouse-gas emissions, including those associated with fertilizer production; the figure rises to 30% or more when costs beyond the farm gate (and especially land conversion) are factored in. On an international level, 10% of the greenhouse-gas emissions from the West come from growing food that is never even eaten.

It is estimated by some that as much as 50% of food produced globally goes to waste

This problem needs to be addressed as a political priority if global food systems are to feed over 8 billion people equitably and sustainably by 2030. Jill Evans MEP has stated:“What I’d like to see is legally binding targets to reduce food waste. People want to reduce food waste, they want to see change, and it has to come from government.”

Last week, This is Rubbish launched their research report, Counting What Matters. The work explores the potential for food waste audits to significantly reduce waste in the food supply chain.

Households are usually blamed for the UK’s food waste mountain, but the reality is that the food industry is responsible for generating over half of the 18-20 million tonnes of food wasted every year. Attempts to control waste associated with the production, processing, transport and sale of food have been hampered by lack of transparent data on where, how and why waste happens in the supply chain.

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We believe a requirement for large food businesses to audit food waste would close this knowledge gap and strengthen preventative policies and action. Our research shows that there is more support for the proposal from the industry than previously believed.

Industry food waste is an issue in need of urgent action, yet report findings show there is a need for further research into the shape and implementation of audit. In light of this, We make three key recommendations for immediate action;

  • Strengthen existing voluntary agreements, including Courtauld Commitment 3 – apply separate targets for industry food waste, implement a pathway to whole supply chain engagement and longer-term reduction targets in line with the EC’s call to halve food waste by 2020
  •  Pave the way for regulation if voluntary agreements fail – the government needs a transparent back-up plan if industry fails to deliver
  • Strengthen citizen engagement and improve debate – there is a need for wider more participative discussion on where responsibility for food waste lies and what steps different actors should take in reducing it.

We are calling for urgent address of industry food waste, and believe that accurate and transparent auditing processes are an effective first step in reducing this problem. After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

For a full version of the report, visit

Caitlin Shepherd is an artist, curator and campaigner whose work focuses on social and environmental justice. She is obsessed with using food as a universal communicator of political and social justice. This fixation has informed her work as co-founder of sustainable events company The Antic Establishment, and award-winning campaign This is Rubbish. She also works as Activism Coordinator for the South West for Oxfam, focusing on delivering many campaigns such as Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), Birth Rights, and GROW.