Seafood buyers, consumers should waste not, want not

Published on
November 9, 2015

The alarmingly high level of food waste from households and in businesses operating throughout the food supply chain has become a major issue of our time; a problem that’s being made all the more pertinent by the many media reports of people – overseas and at home – suffering from food poverty.

According to the FAO, about one-third of all food produced worldwide – equivalent to 1.3 billion metric tons (MT) – gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems, and it’s the industrialized nations that are most guilty of wasting food, cumulatively throwing away an estimated USD 200 billion (EUR 184 billion) worth of it annually.

In these terms, the United Kingdom is one of the biggest miscreants: Brits throw away 7 million MT of food and drink from their homes every year, some 60 percent of which could have been avoided/eaten. Not only is this costing the country an estimated GBP 12.5 billion (EUR 16.8 billion; USD 19.1 billion) a year, it’s bad for the environment too: food waste puts further pressure on land and natural resources, and results in additional greenhouse gas emissions.

Recent research by the U.K. Waste Reduction Action Program (WRAP) found that the average British family with children throws away GBP 700 (EUR 982; USD 1,067) worth of food per year. On a more positive note, WRAP reported that there had been a 21 percent reduction in the amount of household food and drink waste between 2007 and 2012, saving U.K. consumers almost GBP 13 billion (EUR 18.2 billion; USD 19.8 million) over the five-year period. However, its research also highlighted the scale of the remaining challenge.

Seafood is a major contributor to the problem. According to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, the United Kingdom wastes GBP 320 million (EUR 448.7 million; USD 487.3 million) worth of fish and shellfish annually. In volume terms that’s around 29,000 MT.

At a household level, U.K. government research found that fish and meat contributes the highest cost to avoidable food and drink waste at 16.9 percent or GBP 1.52 (EUR 2.12; USD 3.04) per household per week. The two main reasons for this waste were that too much was prepared/cooked and that the product was not used in time.

The problem of wasted food has not fallen on deaf ears. Earlier this year, for example, Birds Eye, the U.K.’s second largest frozen fish company, launched a GBP 2 million (EUR 2.8 million; USD 3 million) campaign, called “iFreeze, iSave,” to show consumers that frozen food can reduce food waste and save them money.

Because of the nature of their business, retailers have a responsibility too and it’s fair to say that many of the country’s leading grocers are responding to the waste problem. Common in-store protocols include reducing items that are close to their expiry date and increasing volumes of surplus are donated to charities. Other waste products are converted into animal feeds or biofuels. If none of these options are viable, then most of the big players also recover energy through anaerobic digestion (AD) or incineration.

In 2014, Tesco became the first U.K. retailer to publish data about the food waste in its operations. For the financial year 2013/14, it wasted 56,580 MT, which dropped to 55,400 MT for FY 2014/15. Furthermore, to understand where and why food was being wasted, it developed “Food Waste Hotspots” for its 25 most popular products. With each product, it is working with its suppliers to tailor waste reduction action plans.

For fresh salmon, the only seafood product profiled by Tesco, it calculated that 19 percent of the total production is wasted. Of this figure, 6 percent is lost at the producer end of the chain, 3 percent is lost to processing, less than 1 percent is lost in store, and 9 percent is wasted by consumers.

Overall, of all Tesco’s top proteins, salmon was only bettered by eggs (10 percent) and beef mince (15 percent) in terms of total production wasted.

For all the positive efforts underway, the sheer volume of food waste still being produced has caught the eye of campaigning chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. In his latest TV documentary series, “Hugh’s War on Waste,” which began airing last week, the former Fish Fighter embarks on a mission to change the way viewers think about waste, mainly by challenging supermarkets to drastically reduce the amount of waste they generate.

Fearnley-Whittingstall is also concerned about the amount of food waste that is being generated by the U.K. fast food industry, estimated at some 2 billion meals per year. Among them, he claimed, is KFC, which is currently throwing away the equivalent of 1 million chickens a year, but has launched a strategy to address the issue.

He’s challenging the food industry to double its distribution of surplus good food rather than send it to AD and for supermarkets to be completely transparent in the way they deal with waste. In addition, following a similar approach to Fish Fight, he asks for support through an online pledge at wastenotuk.com, which more than 36,000 people had signed by the end of last week.

It is, as he said in the first episode, completely unacceptable to dump good food when millions of people in Britain are going hungry.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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