Resources minister Rory Stewart has called for greater transparency from retailers about how much food waste they produce in their individual shops.
Stewart, who was responding in a Parliamentary debate, also said that the UK had exceeded its targets on reducing food waste since 2007.
The debate was initiated by Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East, who called for more ambitious targets in future.
Stewart (above): “Data [is] grouped together by retailers into a single unit, from which it is difficult for us to disinter those data. How on earth are we supposed to hold people to account if we cannot work out how much individual people are doing?
“The Government has been considering food waste on farms – waste that occurs before food reaches the supermarket – along with NGOs. We are considering whole crop purchasing, which could address the issue of people rejecting strangely coloured tomatoes, for example.
“I know that many people focus on the economic arguments, but at the heart of the argument about waste, particularly food waste, is the depletion and degradation of precious resources.”
The debate included discussion of a proposal from Tesco to pilot a scheme to send unsold food to charities using a Fareshare app.
It follows a new law in France that requires supermarkets with an area of more than 400sq m to sign contracts with charities to take their food waste.
McCarthy (left) said an early-day motion called on the UK to introduce similar legislation, while an online petition to the prime minister by campaigning group 38 Degrees had received more than 175,000 signatures.
In 2012, McCarthy introduced a private members’ bill seeking to oblige supermarkets and manufacturers to donate surplus food for redistribution to people in food poverty.
But the then cabinet secretary Francis Maude responded to a written question from McCarthy: “It is not my objective to reduce the amount of food waste collected by my department as food waste can be reprocessed, avoiding the need for landfill.”