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We’re talking waste – measuring, monitoring and moving forward

As WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) releases its ground-breaking report setting out new insights into the scale of surplus and food waste on UK farms, Alexandra Lear, LEAF Projects Assistant, outlines the opportunities it offers to improve efficiencies and deliver more sustainable production throughout the supply chain.

Food waste is by no means new — Gov­ern­ment pro­pa­gan­da from the first and sec­ond world war will show us that.

Although we might not be on the front­line in the UK right now – we’re on the front­line of anoth­er kind of war…the war on waste!

Whilst it might not be as high on our agenda’s as it was dur­ing the first and sec­ond world wars, it might be a good idea to put it back at the top. The issue of waste has been increas­ing since Hugh Fearn­ley-Whit­tingstall showed us and told us that on aver­age, each house­hold in the UK bins £700 worth of food a year. That’s no small number! 

The UK’s sus­tain­abil­i­ty body WRAP has led the way with quan­ti­fy­ing and reduc­ing food waste across the sup­ply chain for the last 10 years. Accord­ing to their research, approx­i­mate­ly one-third of all food pro­duced in the world which is intend­ed for human con­sump­tion is either lost or wast­ed. Research has shown that house­hold food waste makes up around 70% of the UK post-farm-gate total, but that’s just part of the pic­ture — what about pre-farm-gate? 

Researchers and organ­i­sa­tions, such as Feed­back, a cam­paign group work­ing to regen­er­ate nature by trans­form­ing our food sys­tem, have inves­ti­gat­ed these areas. A report pub­lished by Feed­back last year sur­veyed farm­ers views on poten­tial rea­sons for food waste on-farm. 

The report high­lights the role that super­mar­kets play in over­pro­duc­tion and sub­se­quent waste of food in UK farms, stat­ing that pro­duce reject­ed for cos­met­ic rea­sons, such as being the wrong shape, size or colour, was the biggest rea­son for food waste.

How­ev­er, no real esti­mate on amounts of food wast­ed pre-farm-gate has been avail­able… until now. WRAP’s recent report aims to pro­vide an esti­mate for food waste and food sur­plus in pri­ma­ry pro­duc­tion in the UK. The report includes an exten­sive lit­er­a­ture review based on 2017 data, which has helped to pro­vide the most reli­able esti­mate for total farm food sur­plus and food waste to date.

The report states that approx­i­mate­ly 1.6 mil­lion tonnes of food waste and 2 mil­lion tons of food sur­plus is gen­er­at­ed, equiv­a­lent to 7% of the UK’s total annu­al food har­vest and worth around £1.2 billion.

WRAP’s review cov­ers waste occur­ring from the moment a food crop is ready for har­vest (or ani­mal to be slaugh­tered), look­ing into sur­plus food and waste in all areas across pro­duc­tion – grad­ing, pack­ing, wash­ing and cus­tomer rejections.

To con­tribute to a wider data­base of infor­ma­tion and to bet­ter inform what action to take in the future, LEAF has been involved in deliv­er­ing a farmer-led project to inves­ti­gate poten­tial areas of loss pre-farm-gate. This project has been achieved in col­lab­o­ra­tion with 3Keel and Inno­v­a­tive Farm­ers, sup­port­ed by WRAP and made pos­si­ble through fund­ing from Defra. We’ve been meet­ing with some for­ward-think­ing farm­ers who want to get a mea­sure for how much crop is being lost in five ini­tial sec­tors; Toma­to, Egg, Apple, Wheat and Carrot.

Below we’ve high­light­ed two of the sec­tors we’re work­ing with as a part­ner­ship, to give a snap­shot of how our farm­ers are work­ing to bet­ter mea­sure losses…