Frank Field MP
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Supermarkets should give wasted food to the needy

It must be mega-difficult for any company to turn over its existing policy. It’s always easier to remain quiet and hide behind the inaction of other companies. I, like Robin Aitken, applaud Tesco for changing, and hope they’ll become the lead in supermarkets on this and other scores:

Robin Aitken - The Times, 22 October 2013

There was something deeply hypocritical about Tesco’s announcement yesterday that it has discovered that a lot of its food goes to waste. Who’d have thought it? It’s as if they’ve just woken up to something that has been blindingly obvious to the rest of us for years.

The plain fact is that supermarkets build waste into the system; they make sure that whenever we go shopping, even late in the evening, there are fresh bread and salads waiting for us . When the shopping day ends, the excess is tossed out of the back door. Meanwhile, buy-one-get-one-free deals inevitably lead to further waste.

Has Matt Simister, Tesco’s food director, only just discovered this amazing fact?
However one should not spurn the sinner who repenteth and it is a good thing that Tesco is stopping some of its more obviously wasteful practices — but the whole industry needs to go much farther if it is serious about preventing food waste.

In Oxford we have pioneered a sustainable food bank model. What we do — seven days a week — is to pick up food from retailers and wholesalers that has reached its “sell-by”, but not its “use-by” date. We collect the stuff, sort it out and then give it to charities, many of them working with the homeless.
In the nearly five years that we’ve been going this has proved amazingly successful. We now shift about three tons of food a week. That, by a conservative estimate, was worth about £750,000 last year. The food we give away is wholesome and takes pressure off the budgets of the 40 or so charities on our books.

The food industry has to pay one way or another to get rid of unwanted food, so our food bank offers it a solution to this problem while helping the least fortunate in our community.

And it doesn’t mean supermarkets are cutting their own throats by giving away food. The charities we deliver to, with their modest food budgets, are only a negligible market for the stores. And because many grants to charities from local authorities are being cut, the demand for our services grows ever stronger.

Local supermarkets and wholesalers have been tremendously supportive — with one exception. Guess which store we’ve stopped collecting from? Sadly, it’s the Big T which failed day after day to find anything to give us, forcing us, eventually, to stop wasting diesel.

Sustainable food banks could make a real contribution to food waste. All it needs is for the industry to encourage them. How about it, Mr Simister?

Robin Aitken is a founder of the Oxford Food Bank
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