These days, every day has a title but 24 April 2019 is Stop Food Waste Day and, now in its third year, never before has its dilemmatic message been so widely heard.
It is fair to say that, in today’s western societies, we consumers want to eat whatever, whenever and however we like and we don’t want to pay much for it. To meet these demands of our expanding population, we have a global food sector which is diverse and able quickly to adapt to meet our changing wants. Underpinning this, we have developed agriculture on an industrial scale and technology that can prolong our food’s lifespan to the maximum extent, which together have delivered the quantities and costs we demand, but also the waste.
Times are changing, however. Environmentalism is growing as a social movement and increasingly influences how we live our lives, how we vote and how we spend our money, especially when it to comes to our food. That same underpinning industrial agriculture and technology of our food sector is now criticised because of its association with (amongst many things) climate change, habitat loss and unrecyclable waste packaging.
Agriculture and technology are adapting in partnership with commerce, as our retailers seek to offer more eco-friendly products, eliminate or compost food waste, and reduce packaging. New businesses solely focussed on the environment are also gaining a foothold on our supermarket shelves. However, these changes are behind the curve of consumer environmentalism, as the likes of Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg gain momentum and the pressure on governments to regulate increases. For example, within post Brexit UK, DEFRA’s proposed replacement for the Common Agricultural Policy, ELMS (Environmental Land Management System – testing of which began earlier this year), will pay farmers for environmental services and benefits, with pricing based on a natural capital valuation approach. Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP has also intimated that the government may soon introduce new regulation on recyclable packaging.
It will be interesting to see whether other governments introduce such regulatory change, but all new statutory regimes will inevitably reflect the art of the possible in terms of technology and, most importantly, the impact on voters. Amongst many things, restrictions on farming methods may result in food prices rising, and restrictions on packaging may conversely result in food wastage going up as food spoils sooner. Neither would be popular.
Regulation may therefore not be the solution to this problem. While it should be welcomed insofar as it encourages business to move away from practices that are not eco-friendly, it is ultimately us, as consumers, who will deliver the change required. To reduce our waste, we must reduce our wants.
33% of all food produced globally is lost or wasted every year...