A new survey by Wrap (the waste-reduction body) has revealed that more than 3 million tonnes of food are wasted before reaching supermarkets. The food, which is mostly fruit and veg, ends up being fed to animals or ploughed back into fields before even leaving the farm. The report suggests the 3.6 million tonnes lost translates to around £1 billion worth of food.

Reasons for the wastage

The main reason for the destruction of the food is due to fluctuations in demand. During the planting season, farmers predict the demand and plant crops accordingly. However, according to the report, the initial projections are sometimes much higher than what’s actually needed. Additionally, some supermarkets reduce their vegetable and fruit sales due to lower market demand, prioritising other products, or even closing stores down. Any issues affecting supermarkets consequently affect farmers and their stock. 

The 3.6 million tonnes of wasted food includes products damaged during transportation. Despite the development of improved storage systems, calibration and other mechanical errors can lead to faults with the equipment, making a good portion of the food in transit unsaleable. Once it’s deemed unsaleable, it is diverted to feed livestock or distributed to charities. Another reason expressed in the study is the production of low-quality crops, which are composted or used to create energy.

What is most likely to be thrown away? 

According to the report, sugar beet is most likely to be thrown away, with a total of 347,000 tonnes wasted annually. Poultry products accounted for the highest value, with about £85m lost every year. According to Peter Maddox, the director of Wrap, identification of these sources will help resolve the calamity. He said: “There is huge potential to reduce the amount of surplus and waste by promoting best practice, and that’s where our work is now focused. We want to increase the redistribution of surplus food as has happened across the retail sector.”

Wrap has set up a network to connect small-scale producers and farmers to find new outlets for surplus food. However, large manufacturers and supermarkets have also signed up to efforts aimed at reducing the UK’s annual £20bn food waste bill. They are now committed to halving waste from “farm to fork” by 2030.