Food security: demand, consumption and waste - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Consumer choice and food security

1.  We do not argue in this report for a regulatory shift towards compulsion over consumers' food purchasing decisions. We therefore make recommendations for more co-ordinated and focussed actions by the Government, food producers and suppliers, and the third sector to support consumer choices that enhance the ability of all to obtain sufficient safe, healthy and affordable food. We support a robust regulatory framework for the nation's food production and retail systems; consumers must be able to make their choices about what food to buy and from where to buy it knowing that there are strong measures in place to protect their interests.
(Paragraph 8)

2.  We endorse the work of the Government together with farmers, food producers and processors, and retailers to promote UK food to consumers to help ensure the long-term future of national food production.(Paragraph 12)

3.  We welcome the co-ordinated efforts of those producing and retailing fresh produce to exploit longer growing seasons for some fruit and vegetable products. Defra, together with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, should continue to work closely with producers and retailers to develop and widen markets for these products. (Paragraph 16)

4.  Despite efforts to promote healthy eating, the UK is still experiencing high levels of health problems linked to poor diet, in particular problems caused by excessive consumption. While we welcome the work of a range of government departments, local authorities and retailers to promote healthy food choices there needs to be greater integration between the bodies, with firm strategic leadership from the Department for Health. The Government must ensure that innovative local approaches are disseminated to enable far greater numbers of councils, supermarkets and local NHS bodies to develop more effective means of targeting messages. (Paragraph 20)

5.  Government policies require a robust evidence basis, yet Defra currently uses data that do not reflect consumption accurately. The Department should use data published by Public Health England on nutritional intakes to refine its own estimates so as to take into account food bought but not subsequently consumed. (Paragraph 22)

Supporting effective consumer choices

6.  Consumers must make a large number of rapid decisions over myriad purchasing decisions every day, so any information provided at the point of sale must be clear and easily assimilated. We recommend that Defra review with retailers the effectiveness of labelling regulations in informing consumers on key provenance and sustainability factors. Price and brand are easy signals to interpret so drive many consumer decisions. We recommend that Defra seek with retailers to provide equally clear, informative and accurate signals on provenance, sustainability and nutrition. (Paragraph 27)

7.  Further the Department should commission research into the use of sustainability claims on products in order to assess the accuracy of such labelling. Defra should promote the use of accreditation schemes with high levels of quality assurance, such as Red Tractor, since they allow customers to make choices of products based on the scheme brand. (Paragraph 28)

8.  We recommend that Defra work with retailers and their representative bodies to promulgate best practice on online information provision such as tools to allow customers to search for the healthiest products when compiling an online order. (Paragraph 31)

Tackling food waste

9.  Despite reductions in recent years, the UK continues to waste significant volumes of food, and the amount of edible food being disposed of remains unacceptably high. At a time when global food systems are under pressure and the UK faces its own food security challenges, this level of waste is unacceptable economically, socially and environmentally. There is no magic bullet for tackling this; rather measures must be diligently applied across the food supply chain from producer to consumer in order to achieve steady results.(Paragraph 40)

10.  It is essential that the Government provides the Waste and Resources Action Programme with sufficient public funding such that, alongside investment from other sources such as trusts and charities, it has adequate resources to enable it to maintain momentum in its food waste reduction programmes. This makes good economic sense even in times of financial constraint, since programmes to reduce food waste deliver both public and private benefits beyond their costs. (Paragraph 42)

Securing affordable food

11.  Charities provided us with their own evidence of a growing number of people accessing emergency food aid, yet there is no national collation of this data nor sufficient analysis on how usage of foodbanks may be linked to rising food prices or constraints on incomes. We recommend that Defra commission further research into why more people are using foodbanks to provide an evidence base to inform and enhance policy responses. We recommend that the Government collect objective and statistically robust data on the scale of household food insecurity, including through the use of questions in the food costs sections of the UK's Living Costs and Food Survey. It should also monitor trends over time so that the effectiveness of policies can be accurately gauged and any necessary changes made in response to evidence of need. In its response to this report Ministers should set out detailed proposals for how it will work with partners to gather data, the timescale for establishing a work programme and its anticipated outputs. (Paragraph 48)

12.  People living in areas, both rural and urban, with few retail outlets can find it difficult to buy affordable, healthy food, particularly if they have limited mobility or travel budgets. It is therefore vital that local authorities work with retailers to ensure that store development plans take into account the needs of all in their communities and that councils are pro-active in using planning to meet their public health objectives. Technological developments such as internet shopping have a role to play in enabling access to affordable food supplies, and it is vital that communities are not disadvantaged by poor broadband service. (Paragraph 51)

13.  Food which is edible but surplus to requirements should not become waste. We welcome the efforts of a large number of charities to redistribute such food to people in need, but little surplus food is being redistributed and the vast majority is discarded. Redistributing food, particularly fresh food, is a logistical challenge: donors need an incentive to provide surplus food in the first place and it must be matched with the right recipients quickly while still edible. We welcome the food donations being made by producers and retailers, but organisations could donate higher quantities if they were more pro-active in finding outlets for surplus food in a timely manner. Retailers should work with charities such as Plan Zheroes who are playing a growing role in finding practical solutions. Moreover supermarkets must ensure all their outlets have a sound understanding of how to make surplus food available safely and legally but without being unduly risk-averse.(Paragraph 61)

14.  We welcome the work of social enterprises such as Company Shop in developing innovative models to provide quality food at affordable prices to those with income constraints. There is considerable potential for these approaches to be scaled up. However achieving a step-change in the level of redistribution requires concerted action that it would be difficult for a diffuse set of largely voluntary organisations to deliver.(Paragraph 62)

15.  Whilst approaches must be based on local requirements and driven by local communities, Defra should set up a task force to co-ordinate national work by charities, local authorities, retailers, food producers and manufacturers to establish an effective food redistribution network across the country. This should be a key remit of a Food Security Co-ordinator, who should also ensure that food and waste policies inter-link effectively. (Paragraph 63)

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Prepared 22 January 2015