30 October 2022
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New report shines spotlight on millions of tonnes of edible food going to waste on UK farms
- Over six billion meals’ worth of edible food goes to waste before making it off farms in the UK, in what WWF describes as a “hidden” crisis.
- Combatting on-farm food waste could boost farm profits, bolster UK food security and help tackle climate change.
- WWF and Tesco call on governments and the food industry to back farmers in measuring, reporting and reducing waste.
A new report from WWF, in partnership with Tesco, has estimated that almost 3 million tonnes of edible food – valued at £1.8 billion and equivalent to 6.9 billion meals, or over 18 million meals a day – goes to waste on UK farms each year.
The Hidden Waste report published today, shows the substantial environmental footprint of on-farm food waste, which accounts for around 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from UK farming. In terms of wasted natural resources, producing this food requires an area of land nearly half the size of Wales.
Given the scale of estimated food waste on UK farms, which has historically been excluded from industry and government data, WWF and Tesco are calling for urgent action from UK governments and food businesses to ensure greater transparency around on-farm food waste and to support farmers in tackling this “hidden” crisis.
As a key step, WWF and Tesco are calling for mandatory reporting of on-farm food waste, specifically for medium and large farm businesses, to establish the full scale of the problem and to make it possible to track – and accelerate – reductions in years to come, by informing policy decisions to ensure they support farmers to drive down waste.
The report and accompanying ‘roadmap’ set out how this data can be used to inform changes to retailer and government policies, which often drive on farm food waste. For example, crops can be lost before they are harvested due to labour shortages, or because late notice changes to orders mean there is a risk a harvested crop will remain unsold, which would leave farmers out of pocket. To avoid this risk, crops are sometimes left in the ground.
The report sets a target of halving on-farm food waste by 2030, and highlights the potential benefits such reductions could bring, including the “significant role” this could play in improving UK food security, driving down emissions and boosting farmers’ profits.(1)
Kate Norgrove, Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF, said:
“At a time when people up and down the country are struggling to put food on the table it is unfathomable that millions of tonnes of food is going to waste on UK farms each year. This hidden crisis shows why we need urgent action to fix our broken food system.
“Given the cascade of benefits that tackling food waste on farms could bring - from bolstering our food security to helping address the climate crisis - UK Government and businesses across the food sector must take urgent action to support farmers in slashing food loss and waste on farms, as part of wider efforts to drive down waste across the food system.
“At the same time, ministers must reaffirm the Government’s commitment to incentives that will drive a UK-wide shift to nature friendly farming, helping to futureproof our food system and bring our world back to life.”
Sarah Bradbury, Quality Director at Tesco, said:
“It’s completely unacceptable that good food goes to waste, and never more so than at a time when families face rising costs and far too many people are struggling to put food on the table. It’s why we’ve worked hard to tackle the issue of food waste in our own business, recently announcing that we will accelerate our plans to halve food waste in our own operations by 2025, five years ahead of our original goal.
“We want to support our farmers and suppliers to do the same, encouraging them to Target, Measure, Act and follow the lead of 107 of our suppliers who have collectively cut food loss and waste by 78,000 tonnes.
“Today’s report by the Tesco-WWF partnership plays a critical role in shining a light on hidden food waste. With ongoing environmental and economic challenges affecting the food system, we hope it will challenge our industry to understand the underlying drivers of on-farm waste and help us to work together to resolve it.”
- The Hidden Waste report is available here.
- The Roadmap is available here.
-  Recent analysis from WRAP has shown a potential 20% increase in profits for farm enterprises if food surplus and waste is reduced to the minimum reported rates.
- In the UK, total food loss and waste (FLW) is reported as 9.5 million tonnes (source WRAP); however, this figure excludes food waste occurring on UK farms. This figure therefore does not give a complete picture of food waste in the UK and its harmful impact on the environment.
- This study finds that an estimated 3.3 million tonnes of food is wasted on farms in the UK each year, of which 2.9 million tonnes is classed as “edible”.
- Food waste in UK primary production contributes 6 million tonnes of CO2eq (MtCO2e), equivalent to approximately 10% of UK agricultural emissions and requiring an area of land half the size of Wales.
- For the purposes of UK guidance, the term ‘Food Waste’ describes any food and inedible parts sent to any of the Food Waste Destinations listed below:
-Not harvested/ploughed in
- This report focuses on farm-stage food loss and waste and uses ‘food waste at farm stage’ to describe any outputs from primary food production that are, or were at some point, intended for human consumption, but which end up either not being harvested (and subsequently ploughed in) or sent to one of the seven food waste destinations listed above.
- The 2021 study Driven to Waste estimated that 15% of food produced at a global level never makes it past the farm gate, however, food loss and waste on farms continues to be omitted from official estimates in the UK.
- Given that there are objectives across the UK for increasing sustainable agriculture, reducing food insecurity, reaching net zero and achieving a circular food economy, we can no longer afford to ignore farm-stage food loss, which presents an opportunity to impact all of these areas simultaneously.
- This report’s sister, Hidden waste: The Roadmap to tracking and reducing food surplus and waste on UK farms, lays out step-by-step actions which must be taken by actors within the UK food system to support farmers in beginning to measure, report and reduce waste.
- Recommendations to tackle farm stage food loss and waste include:
-Setting binding targets for a 50% reduction in food loss and waste from farm to fork
-Implement mandatory reporting of food loss and waste:
For all post-farm gate medium and large businesses, to begin in 2023.
For all medium and large farm businesses, to begin in 2024
-Integrate FLW measurement and reporting into sustainable agriculture financial incentives
-Redevelop animal agriculture practices and standards based on FLW impact and integrate in farm certification schemes
-Shift subsidies in favour of redistribution and reuse of food, rather than energy recovery
-Implement policy to improve supply chain practices which drive on-farm food loss and waste
- Targeting a reduction in food waste at this stage of the supply chain holds a host of potential benefits, including freezing or possibly reducing our land footprint and offering protection to landscapes and biodiversity through improved food production efficiency.
About the WWF x Tesco Partnership:
WWF and Tesco united in 2018 to bring together our shared expertise to deliver affordable, healthy, sustainable food. The goal of the partnership is to halve the environmental impact of the average UK shopping basket. The partnership focuses on three key areas of action: helping customers to eat more sustainable diets; restoring nature in food production; and tackling waste.