OPINION - Food waste: Two problems tackled in one move - now let’s do it

 (Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)
(Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)

Close to 14 million people experience food insecurity in Britain every day. Four million are just children. At the same time, we waste more than three million tons of food every year: that’s an area nearly half the size of Wales, producing healthy crops that never get eaten.

For years, the Evening Standard has campaigned to end food poverty in London, in partnership with FareShare and the Felix Project. With your help, we raised over £10 million to feed London’s hungry during the pandemic and build a new social kitchen in east London. It is now the largest of its kind in the country, producing up to 7,000 fresh and high-quality meals each day from surplus food. That is on top of the 600,000 meals Felix already redistributes each week.

Today, our investigation has found that we can tackle both food waste and food poverty in one fell swoop. The Government knows how to do this because we have told them. The public accounts committee meeting next Monday should hold responsible those who said in meetings how passionate they were about this but whose inaction, so far, has spoken louder than their words.

No department has been willing to take control of the issues, bouncing blame from one office to the next and failing to address a problem that has blighted our country for years. What makes it all the more astonishing is how straightforward the solution is.

The truth is, for only £25 million, the Government could deliver more than 40,000 tons of food to those in need, simply by redirecting to food banks farm produce that would otherwise go rotten.

The £25 million figure might seem like a large sum, but it’s a pittance compared to the £750 million subsidies going to anaerobic digestion plants. The Government favours this option because it helps them meet net zero targets. It’s a nice idea, but one has to ask, at what cost?

Reallocating £25 million is a small effort — a win for farmers, food banks and environmentalists alike

A growing number of plants, built in response to the subsidies, has increased competition in the sector so much it’s paying food producers to take away their surplus. This means perfectly edible food ends up in digesters while producers are incentivised to let their crops go bad. Diverting a meagre 3.3 per cent of these multimillion-pound subsidies could instead go to support farmers keen to send surplus food to the hungry. This would provide an additional 100 million meals to those who need it most.

Reallocating £25 million to tackle food poverty is a small effort that goes a long way — a win for farmers, food banks and environmentalists alike. Continued Government inaction over this can only be explained by a complete lack of political will.

Indeed, studies have shown that every pound spent on redistributing edible food can create nearly £6 of socioeconomic value, and that tackling food poverty in this way could save the Government £140 million in costs — on NHS spending caused by food insecurity, for instance. This is exactly the kind of opportunity ministers should be seizing with both hands. We call on them to act now.