As Britain lags behind other EU countries in food waste reduction, shadow minister Kerry McCarthy’s initiative wins cross-party support and is lauded by an array of organisations campaigning on the issue. PETER FROST has the details
Jeremy Corbyn has appointed Kerry McCarthy as the new shadow secretary for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra).
McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, who was first elected to the Commons in 2005 becomes one of 16 women in the shadow cabinet — the first in history with a majority of women holding office.
She has been a leading campaigner against the government’s badger cull and the attempts by Tory hunting and shooting interests to re-introduce fox hunting. She is also a vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports.
The media has made much play on the fact that McCarthy is a vegan and made a speech in the House of Commons on the subject on World Vegan Day. She is one of just a handful of vegans in Parliament — Corbyn is a vegetarian.
Much more important in his choice of his new shadow Defra minister is her work — inside and outside of Parliament — seeking to reduce the huge waste of food by supermarkets and the food industry in Britain.
On September 9 she introduced her 10-minute rule Bill the Food Waste (Reduction) Bill in the House of Commons.
Her Bill seeks to ensure that more of the obscene amounts of food needlessly wasted through the food industry supply chains from production through to the high street is prevented or, alternatively, made available for redistribution to people living in food poverty.
It received support from across four parties, with the backing Caroline Lucas, Margaret Ferrier, Zac Goldsmith and several Labour MPs.
It is also supported by many food waste campaigning organisations including Feedback, This Is Rubbish, FareShare, WWF-UK, Friends of the Earth and Sustain — the alliance for better food and farming.
McCarthy’s Bill addresses the shocking and unsustainable levels of food industry waste.
Globally, around a third of all food produced is wasted. The environmental impact of this waste is huge — if it was all produced by a single country, it would make it the world’s third-largest producer of greenhouse gases after the US and China.
Yet if the amount of food wasted around the world were reduced by just a quarter there would be enough to feed everyone on this planet.
The present Tory government policies have focussed on household food waste but largely ignored the waste generated by the food industry throughout its supply chain.
Meanwhile the food industry’s voluntary targets simply aren’t drastic enough to drive the level of reduction needed. They would never reach EU and UN targets on food waste reduction.
Britain redistributes a tiny 2 per cent of its fit-for-purpose surplus food, by comparison to France which redistributes 20 times this volume.
It cannot be right that good edible food is thrown away — or turned into compost or energy — when people are going to bed hungry, skipping meals or can’t afford to give their children nutritious meals.
The Bill also targets the huge waste generated by supermarkets. It requires large supermarkets and manufacturers to report and publish their food waste figures.
Between a quarter and a half of Britain’s fruit and vegetables are rejected — often simply for cosmetic reasons — by supermarket chains before they even reach the shops. The Bill sets targets for large supermarkets and manufacturers to reduce their food waste by a third by 2025.
While 10-minute rule Bills rarely become legislation, they influence policy and McCarthy’s actions now she is a shadow mininster will shine a bright light on this fundamentally important issue.
However, I expect the rest of the media won’t be too concerned to report the outstanding initiative. Rather it will spend most of its energy describing the new shadow minister as strange — simply because she won’t be eating meat, milk or eggs for lunch.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 25 Sept 2015.