84.Redistribution is the process whereby surplus food that would have otherwise have ended up as waste is instead provided for people to eat. Redistribution in the UK is on a voluntary basis.
85.FareShare stated that the UK redistributes less than 10,000 tonnes of surplus food to charities each year, with a value to the voluntary sector of £19.6 million. It was estimated that there was the potential for at least 110,000 tonnes of surplus food from the retail sector to be diverted from waste each year, and redistributed to feed people in need. This could provide 262 million meals for people in need each year.
86.Representatives from the retail industry told us that there was a strong will within the industry to improve redistribution rates. Several of the major supermarkets had partnered with charities to re-distribute store level surplus food that was unsold at the end of the day to local charities and community groups. For example, Tesco had partnered with FareShare on a UK-wide programme.
87.Retailers told us how they were using technology to make it easier for charities to identify what surplus food was available. For example, through a specially designed app, Tesco stores could inform linked groups about what food was available and organise collection. This was currently operational in over 800 Tesco stores, with a view to implementing it in all Tesco stores by the end of 2017.
88.While charities welcomed the partnerships that had already developed, they noted that some difficulties, both financial and practical, remained to improving redistribution figures.
89.Charities expressed concern that the will at head office to improve redistribution rates did not always filter down to individual stores within the chain. FareShare called for a more consistent UK-approach by retailers.
90.Many of our witnesses highlighted the logistical difficulties of collecting surplus food from businesses, with many retailers asking for surplus food to be picked up by charities at the back of stores at 10pm. Brighton & Hove Partnership noted that most voluntary groups did not have the capacity to collect, sort and store edible food that became surplus. It told us that retailers needed to take more responsibility on ensuring that surplus food donation was feasible: “Most food poverty charities are run by volunteers with limited resources, which makes collecting food at specific times and in a specific manner very difficult”. Feedback suggested that tax relief could be given to haulage firms who delivered surplus food from retailers to charities.
91.Some charities were also not in favour of the increasing use of technology by different retailers. During our visit, FoodCycle told us that it was a burden to search through different apps from different retailers and companies. They thought it would be more beneficial if the retailers co-operated on one app, which would make it easier and quicker to see what was available across all retailers in the area.
92.We also heard of some administrative difficulties that charities faced. While visiting FoodCycle’s kitchen, volunteers told us of the length of contracts that they had to sign with retailers in order to set up partnerships—some were over 25 pages long. This provided an administrative burden for smaller charities.
93.Concern was expressed that surplus food that could legally go to people was often sent for anaerobic digestion (AD) instead, even though anaerobic digestion was further down the food waste hierarchy. This was encouraged by tax incentives for waste that was turned into green energy, while there was no similar financial support to enable businesses to redistribute their surplus food to people in need.
94.FareShare noted that, as a result of these incentives, many businesses disposed of edible surplus food via AD or converted it to animal feed, because this cost less than keeping it in a fit state for human consumption, which had additional costs in terms of segregation, storage and handling.
95.Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall was critical of supermarkets’ increasing use of AD both on social and practical grounds:
When we know there are hungry people, the idea of making electricity out of food when we could be feeding people, feels wrong. But actually scientifically it’s the wrong thing to do, because the energy recovery from AD is pathetic, compared to the energy recovered by people eating food.
96.FareShare noted that France offered tax deductions for redistribution schemes to cover the direct costs of charity redistribution. It called for fiscal incentives to be available in England to provide “a level playing field”, so that it did not cost businesses more to redistribute surplus food to charities and community groups than it did to turn it into energy or animal feed. This would ensure that economic incentives were more aligned with the food waste hierarchy.
97.FareShare suggested that the Government provide a fund to assist redistribution, to be administered for the food industry by an appropriate organisation, such as The Food and Drink Federation or WRAP:
Based on current levels of charity redistribution, this would require an estimated investment of £1 million a year to cover the additional costs involved with keeping food safe to eat and transporting it to charities, rising to £10 million a year if the goal of redistributing 100,000 tonnes a year is reached.
98.When raising the issue of fiscal support with the Minister, we were surprised to hear that fiscal tools were currently available to promote redistribution. There is a general provision in the tax code where companies can get tax relief on trading stock that is produced but not sold. This includes food donated to charities—the cost of producing trading stock, which is donated, is deducted from their profits before tax is calculated. We are unsure how well this is known throughout the food business industry.
99.We discussed whether legislation was required to improve redistribution rates. Legislation introduced in France in 2016 made it illegal for retailers above a certain size to destroy or landfill food and required them to establish relationships with redistributors of surplus food, and to offer suitable food to them.
100.The majority of the witnesses were not in favour of legislation in England. FareShare was not convinced that legislation would be suitable, as it would be difficult to police in practice and might create more red tape.
101.We welcome the will shown by retailers to redistribute surplus food. However, we believe that more must be done. There is a huge amount of surplus food that is currently not being redistributed. We urge WRAP to set retailers a target of doubling the proportion of surplus food they redistribute to charities and voluntary organisations and to agree this target, and the timescale over which it will be achieved. Retailers must ensure that the political will in their head offices is turned into action at a local level.
104.We recommend that the incoming Government takes steps to better communicate the current tax breaks or incentives that are available to companies, in order to support their efforts to redistribute surplus food.
89 FareShare ()
90 FareShare ()
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93 Brighton & Hove Food Partnership ()
95 FareShare ()
96 “”, The Guardian, 9 November 2015
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100 FareShare ()
26 April 2017