Hundreds of millions of tonnes of food worth around £1.2 billion goes to waste every year before reaching supermarket shelves in the UK.
That’s according to new research from WRAP, which reveals around 3.6 million tonnes of food surplus and waste occurs annually in farms and in food supply chains.
That includes food rejected by retailers because they don’t meet quality standards, problems during storage or packaging and fluctuations in demand, all adding up to more than 10 times the amount thrown away by retailers.
WRAP estimates agricultural food waste accounts for 1.6 million tonnes of the total figure, or around 3% of production, with a market value of around £650 million and around two million tonnes of surplus – equivalent to 7% of the total annual food harvest in the UK.
Sugar beet, potatoes and carrots made up more than half of the overall waste by weight, with the top 10 products accounting for 80% of the total weight.
When grouped by product type, horticultural crops make up 54% of the total, followed by cereals at 30%, livestock 8% and milk 8%.
WRAP Director Peter Maddox said: “This is the most detailed study of food surplus and waste in primary production undertaken for the UK and a key finding has been the range of waste across all food categories. This tells us 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 redistribution of surplus food as has happened across the retail sector and I am pleased this will now be much easier through the Food Surplus Network.”
He is calling on businesses and researchers to share their insights through WRAP’s collaborative data sharing platform to help bring more clarity to the global food waste issue.
Peter Andrews, Head of Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium adds: “Food waste is a major source of carbon emissions and we support WRAP’s efforts to mitigate it. The challenges involved in tackling food waste in farming are vast but if we are to be serious about these environmental and social challenges of food production and consumption, then we can leave no stone unturned.
“Retailers are working closely with their suppliers to minimise waste, for example, by using more accurate prediction of demand, finding ways to use surplus production and setting clear targets for future improvement.”