Food waste

12.12.13 – Food waste

Farmers generally try to practice minimal food waste practices, an example it was felt that more retailers and customers should try to adopt. Different options are now available in such situations, such as AD plants or using that waste in a different process on farm. Knee-jerk reactions and lack of education around use-by and best-before dates, and the use of waste is not helping though, perhaps underplayed by a lack of incentivisation to make a difference. It has to be a joint effort through legislation, more local and sustainable purchasing, and the relationship between economy and value. Using the term waste food rather than surplus also does no favours to those trying to add value and create opportunities for such products in the agri-food and energy sectors.

The discussion held on Thursday 12th December 2013 was a discussion about food waste. It generated a total of 304 tweets on the topic from 64 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

What type of farm do you have, and do you think you produce food waste on your farm?

  • Mixed farm. No, I don’t think we do. Silage is always forked up, and all corn sold straight away
  • Waste is low in top fruit as we have (Lo value) cider and juice as outlets for apples which don’t make the supermarket grade
  • We have a beef fattening unit & I don’t think we have any food waste
  • I help on a suckler cattle and finishing unit, no good waste there that I can think off, the waste is further down the chain
  • No I produce sheep meat. Any excess household food gets recycled into another meal.
  • Biggest food waste in my business is leftover bread rolls after a poor/mis-sold/rained off event, chooks recycle these though
  • Mixed farm, everything used because waste = money. Don’t want to throw it away!
  • We produce goats cheese and we try to feed the liquid whey to young stock but at peak production times we have wastage
  • Grain for hens gets shared by wild birds & mice Barn Owls eat mice no waste.

What types of food waste are there? E.g. does something like out of specification animals for slaughter count as food waste?

  • But supermarket BOGOF, Buy One Get One Free, encourages food waste from the consumer!
  • ‘Use By Dates’ must be a major factor in food waste at point of sale.
  • Offal surely counts as food waste? And poor butchery skills?
  • Storage limitations were a problem with rots etc in Top Fruit, but investment in store technology has reduced this greatly
  • Standard is irrelevant. People must learn to eat the unattractive parts. Skilled butcher can clear a carcass

If there is waste food that isn’t eaten by people, what other ways are there that farmers can use it? What do you do?

  • The answer is that we ALL have to cut back on waste, individuals & businesses alike. Now & with bit cuts. Incl how much we eat!
  • Any household leftovers are fed to the pigs, dogs have meat and gravy etc. the veg goes to the piggers!
  • Quite a lot of food waste now being used in AD plants, good use of waste or taking livestock feed sources out of the market?
  • Simply because waste goes to another process, does not mean it’s not wasted. Waste to biomass is wasted when it could go to pigs
  • Food waste a vast problem at all levels including the kitchen. It begins there. ‘Recipe’ culture partly to blame.
  • We would love to give any surplus whey to neighbouring farmers but have been told we need a waste carriage licence
  • We can’t do anything with any waste that’s been processed/Kitchened-2yr jail sentence
  • ‘Use by Dates’ ought never to have been invented. Classic case of taking away personal responsibility
  • Perhaps AD plants are the answer to surplus food waste but would need big enough volumes I guess to make a consistent mix?

How do we balance use of food waste (like in AD plants) without disincentivising reducing food waste?

  • I think a financial incentive would help. Farmers love their cash.
  • Bring back swill feeding to pigs. FMD knee jerks disastrous. Traceability improved since those days.
  • Is the lack of education around food causing waste?
  • Surely the low value of the waste product will always encourage reducing the percentage of waste vs the original market?
  • Food is too cheap consumer has no respect for food they have bought & therefore feel no pain when come to throw away
  • I think a tighter spec on meat would be good- less would be wasted & less feed required
  • Pigs and hens used to be the natural AD plants Traceability improvements should surely counterbalance FMD risks
  • Does anyone know if UK food production self-sufficiency takes into account food waste? Would this change our %
  • Food waste from industries/hospitality can go to AD – householders only send scraps/peelings etc
  • At the level that farms can influence food waste it is getting buyers to accept produce even if not perfect, no harvest wastage

Who do you think holds the key to reducing food waste? Farmers, processors, supermarkets or consumers

  • BOGOF = get more than you need or want = food waste. All funded by farmers for the benefit of the supermarket profit
  • There needs to be a total compromise. Supermarkets need to take all food, no just perfect shaped. Consumers need to accept it
  • Household income spent on food: 35% in 1950, 26% in 1970, 21% in 1990 and 12% in 2012. Cheap food has a price, waste is one
  • Legislating for food waste prevention key: reduce/redist to ppl/ redist to animals THEN AD for remaining
  • From where I see it farmers can’t do a lot about food waste but the rest of the chain can
  • If consumers & retailers managed to reduce the amount of waste how much less produce/ products would they have to buy?!
  • True. But we still need to support local industry. Local butchers using offal for local recipes
  • Single living, smaller families, both parents working, increasing shift working. Modern lifestyle makes waste more likely
  • Supermarkets – if food prices reflected the real COP consumer would have to place more thought into every item in the trolley
  • How much of an increased role can fridge designers play – new biofridges stay fresh longer fridges
  • Mixed bag Education of consumers, Red Tape reduction by gov, shorter retailer food chain, consumer demand, farm investment.
  • Supermarkets hold key to reducing food waste. They dictate price to farmers and terms on which 90% of food sold to consumer
  • Everyone holds a key to reducing it & it has to be a joint effort. Aportioning blame for food waste won’t solve the problem

What’s the relationship between food price and food waste? Does less spent on food mean you waste more? Is it that simple?

  • Surely it’s the other way around, the more you spend the more you waste. Economising is the key in today’s world
  • I’m afraid that wealth comes into it. some cannot afford to waste anything (if they know how to cook) others sadly can and do
  • When food is no longer a cheap & plentiful commodity food waste will naturally reduce, consumers will buy less
  • Weather a big factor in the soft fruit / perishable produce industry. Strawberry sales plummet if we have a wet summer
  • Look at oil. Irreplaceable but wasted monstrously. Very few care.
  • Just because carrot is wonky does not mean it has to be wasted – it can go to other markets
  • A plentiful supply of food is taken for granted in UK, people buy far more than they need because it is so cheap
  • Valuing food isn’t all about price – food I’ve grown myself doesn’t get wasted but too many sprouts from the local market…

Have you had fruit or veg or other produce rejected because it is not perfect – what, when & by whom?

  • We do, veg crispers, pub chains, s’markets, independents but mis-shapes a big problem
  • Have had the price of barley knocked down because it was a touch damp. Other than that no
  • Shelf life problems are one way s.mrkts try to reject when THEY over order. So now in-house shelf life test and audit trail.

Some say feeding food waste to pigs is the answer. What do you think about this?

  • Outdated & not worth the risk when AD plants can process
  • Scraps are fine, but pigs surely need some nutritional cake or something. They can’t thrive on waste?
  • You cannot possibly have the traceability you need. Lessons learnt from horsegate!
  • Without the same level of FMD risk due to improved traceability it merits a revisit
  • Feeding waste to pigs seems the simple solution but it’s too risky with global supply chains
  • Good in theory, but it only takes one ‘bad apple’ to let the industry down and risk our hard fought reputation for safe food.
  • Pigs thrived on food waste until 2001
  • AD & pig swill is a kin to solving the waste problem not solving the problem of waste

There are more and more food banks now operating. Have you ever donated any waste food from your farm to one or would you?

  • I would, but think that people, although hungry, would turn their noses up at things they don’t know what to do with
  • Using the term waste probably doesn’t put it in the best light
  • Suggest you mean surplus food rather than waste – subtle difference when you are deciding if you want to eat it or not
  • The principle must be right in a compassionate society

What opportunities for farmers are there? Is there potential for new food products formerly seen as food waste?

  • Yes, using traditional recipes and local knowledge, producing food for a niche market would be easy. For example haggis
  • Massive opportunities in agri sector. Supermarkets listening, reduction high on agenda, positive acts.
  • Massive opportunities for 3D farming Agro Forestry root crops, bush and tree crops. Nuts, fruits cereals, berries
  • When I was a wee lad we didn’t have sell by dates we just didn’t bother eating food that had gone off. No one died!
  • Not quite food waste, but byproduct, how about more uses for OSR & Bean straw. Underused bulky product?

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 16 December 2013

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