Women’s Institute Critical Of Food Label Wastage

WI Food WasteNew campaign aims to cut food waste

The Women’s Institute is calling for clearer and more consistent food labelling to help tackle the UK’s food waste problem.

From ‘grow your own’ during World War I, to cake sales and jam making, the Women’s Institute has always been strongly linked with food.  And the organisation’s latest campaign looks set to continue this tradition.

In 2016, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) passed a resolution that calls on all UK supermarkets to sign up to a voluntary agreement to avoid food waste, and to pass surplus food on to charities to help address food poverty.

Food waste problem

The UK currently has a huge problem with food waste, with more than 7 million tonnes of household food being thrown away each year – more than any other country in Europe. This wasted food costs the average household almost £500 per year and generates carbon emissions that are roughly equivalent to a quarter of the cars on our roads. What’s more, if just a quarter of this wasted food was redistributed, it would feed the 800 million plus people currently living in hunger.

Despite such staggering statistics, decisive action on food waste in the UK has thus far been slow in coming, which is why campaigns such as that of the NFWI are so important.

Responsible labelling

One of the key focuses of the campaign is food labelling. Food labels are an important element of food safety, helping to protect customers against illnesses such as listeria or salmonella; however, they can contribute to food being thrown away unnecessarily.

The main issue arises from consumer confusion over the meaning of ‘use-by’ and ‘best before dates’. Foods with ‘use-by’ dates are unsafe to eat past a certain date, whereas ‘best before’ refers to quality rather than safety. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of this distinction, and, as a result, food that passes its ‘best before’ date is often discarded despite still being safe to eat.

To make the situation worse, the NFWI has also discovered that there is a lot of discrepancy when it comes to instructions on how, and for how long, products should be stored once opened, with bigger brands tending to recommend longer storage periods than supermarket own labels.

This confusion over food storage and usage has a big impact. Food is often thrown away unnecessarily, and experts claim that we could prevent over 250,000 tonnes of food waste a year if were to extend food storage and usage periods by just one day!

In light of this, the NFWI campaign is calling on supermarkets and brands to produce labelling that is clearer and more consistent.
Marylyn Haines-Evans, chairman for public affairs at the NFWI, said: ‘Supermarkets must do more to help all consumers reduce their food waste and ultimately save money. We would like supermarkets to extend the amount of time that consumers have to use a product by making all of their ‘once-opened’ instructions on packaging consistent and reflective of the true open-life of the product, and for all once-opened instructions to be removed on products where food safety is not an issue.’

Wider changes

As part of the campaign, the NFWI has also produced a report and manifesto outlining changes supermarkets can make to help consumers to reduce food waste. As expected, this report looks at date and labelling issues, but also covers wider supermarket practices, such as multi-buy promotions, which can encourage the purchase of excess food.

In a world where we are trying to curb carbon emissions, and in which many people live in food poverty, tackling food waste should be a prime concern to governments, businesses and consumers. By launching this campaign, the NFWI hope to raise awareness of the issue and encourage supermarkets to take concrete actions that can yield positive results.