Tesco recently announced that they will donate their unsold food to charity organisations.

Tesco recently announced that they will donate their unsold food to charity organisations. And they aren’t the only supermarket giants to be putting serious effort into waste reduction.

In France, it is a legal requirement to dispose of food waste via the charity route with heavy fines for breaches, while in Italy there is talk of incentivising business to donate their surplus. But is it all it purports to be? Well it does bear closer thought.

The cynic in us shouts “it’s all media hype just to make them look good”. I mean, whoever heard of them being philanthropic? Except, quite often they are. There is already a voluntary agreement in the UK and for a long time they have been donating their unsold food to community organisations.

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy presented his food waste bill in parliament recently, a bill similar to that of the French, forcing supermarkets and manufacturers to pass their unsold food to charities to reduce the scandalous amount of food waste.

The French and the British have similar waste figures, around 7 million tonnes per year each. But 67% of this is wasted by consumers. You and I waste over 4.5 million tonnes of food between us a year. The BOGOF culture didn’t help but we didn’t have to have the one to throw away, even if it was free and 4.5 million tonnes is a bit more than the odd box of squelchy strawberries.

So what could be the downside to donating unsold food to those in need? French law stipulates that large supermarkets are forbidden from deliberately spoiling unsold food. As with their British counterparts, the Fédération du Commerce et de la Distribution criticised the plan saying that they have been donating for years. Indeed, some pressure groups, such as Gars’pilleurs who work to raise awareness of poverty and waste, have been lukewarm on the idea. They have concerns that it doesn’t address the wider issues and that community organisations could become a dumping ground having to foot the cost of disposal or end up with too much food. How can this latter point be a problem when there are so many in need? Surely the more food the more people they can feed? But it comes down to funds. These community groups only have just enough resources to process the food that is currently donated to them and couldn’t afford the extra that more donations would require.

So what is the answer? As ever, the problem cannot be considered in isolation, a holistic view is needed with due consideration for cause and effect. We have to be creative with what we do with what we produce because the scales still tip in the direction of massive wastage, the needy still go hungry and the obesity and cardiovascular disease epidemics continue to run amok.

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Barbara Mason

5th April 2016

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