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Call to review food date labels to reduce food waste

Clear advice on food date labels will help consumers waste less food, according to Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has published a food strategy consultation that assesses the challenges the UK will face to ensure the sustainability of its food supply.

Benn outlined on BBC Ones Andrew Marr Show  that supermarkets and industry are working together to give clear advice on best before dates to avoid consumer confusion. He said: Theres use by and thats very important because thats food safety. But when it comes to sell by or best before, I think we as consumers [need to] understand better what those labels mean.

 And dont forget in the past, long before any such labels existed, people would look at the food in the fridge or in the larder and decide whether it was okay to eat. And throwing that food away well obviously it costs us money in our pockets and thats not very sensible, and if it goes to landfill then it produces methane and that adds to the problem of climate change.

Defra is working with the Waste & Resources Action Programme, and the Food Standards Agency to:
* Clarify existing guidance to industry on the use of date labels;
* Improve consumer understanding and confidence in date labels; and
* Enable changes to industry practice that will lead to greater consistency and simplification in the use of date labels.

WRAP estimates that the UK throws away 18-20 million tonnes of waste per year, 6.7 million of which is wasted by UK households.

Benn said that some supermarkets were working hard to minimise the amount of food they send to landfill.

In a new book called, Waste: Uncovering the global food scandal, author Tristram Stuart states that household food waste figures are easier to come by than supermarket food waste figures.

He said that all anyone has to go on is that which the supermarkets choose to publish; there is no official mechanism for cross-checking their data.

He added: They are allowed to bury the worlds valuable food supplies without giving any account of their activities, despite the fact that it would be logistically far simpler to spot-check supermarket skips than to trawl through thousands of filthy domestic dustbins.

WRAP is currently undertaking research on the amounts of food waste produced by the retail sector and its supply chain and by the hospitality industry. This research will be published later in 2009.

It is also negotiating a successor to the Courtauld Commitment to span 2010 to 2015. The current proposal shifts the emphasis from weight-based targets towards a carbon reduction scheme, focusing on reducing the carbon impacts with traditional grocery products including their associated packaging systems. More than 50 companies are expected to sign up to the new agreement.

Benn said: Our food strategy will need to cover all aspects of our food production, processing, distribution, retail, consumption and disposal. And that includes the impact on our health, on the environment and future productivity, and on how we deal with food waste.

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