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Sustainable Consumption Institute

Waterloo Place, Oxford Road, The University of Manchester

‘Food for Thought’ workshop

11 December 2014

November saw the SCI’s Households, Retailers and Food Waste Transitions Project host an international workshop, bringing together leading social scientists in the field with policy makers and representatives of third sector organisations and UK supermarkets.

Food waste has been high on the political agenda this year. In January the British Retail Consortium announced that the major supermarkets would begin regularly reporting on the amount of food wasted in their stores. In April the House of Lords Inquiry into EU food waste prevention published its findings, garnering widespread media coverage.

By September the Waste and Resources Action Programme’s (WRAP) ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ campaign launched new initiatives across ten UK cities. SCI researchers contributed to the public debate, reporting on research into the causes of household food waste for the Guardian Sustainable Business and the redistribution of surplus food by the supermarket sector on the Policy@Manchester website. And food banks, largely supplied by supermarket surplus, were rarely out of the news as austerity bit across the UK, most recently with the publication of the all-party, Church of England-funded report ‘Feeding Britain’.

Food for Thought brought together over 40 key stakeholders, including representatives from: the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the UN Environment Programme, the World Resources Institute and the UK’s Food Standards Agency; policymakers from Defra, the Welsh Government, and delivery agency Zero Waste Scotland; third sector organisations such as Forum for the Future and Keep Britain Tidy (Wastewatch); representatives from ASDA, The Cooperative Group, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Tesco and industry body the IGD; and campaigners, consultants and academics from across the UK and Europe, including the SCI’s Director Prof. Dale Southerton, Prof. Alan Warde, Dr. Joanne Swaffield, Dr. Daniel Welch, Dr. Luke Yates and PhD student Claire Hoolohan.

Dr. David Evans, principal investigator on the ESRC\SCI funded project, welcomed delegates to the Manchester Museum venue. WRAP researcher Dr. Tom Quested and Programme Manager Andrew Parry gave the opening keynote on the agency’s evidence base. Stakeholder interviews for the SCI project have demonstrated the centrality of WRAP for the emergence of a consensus around food waste in the UK.

The central themes of the workshop were the relationship between research and policy, and evidence and action. And a key aim was to facilitate networking between delegates. The innovative workshop design challenged participants to collaborate with stakeholders from across different constituencies—academia, policy, third sector and retail—to better understand the constraints and structures within which each operates.

The morning was spent working in groups, with delegates introducing themselves, mapping their expertise and experience, and reporting back to the workshop as a whole. This formed the groundwork for the workshop’s afternoon activity of intensive collaboration: thinking through the objectives, design, challenges and outputs for a mock research project, policy intervention or campaign on consumer food waste.

The six groups then fed back to the workshop as a whole. Policy interventions were proposed to: reduce red meat waste from households through ‘smart labelling’; and to both provide guidance for industry on optimised product shelf life and on creating infrastructure and outlets for use of food outside of its shelf life. The ‘Design a Campaign’ challenge was taken up to develop food skills of students to reduce food waste within the home.

WRAP research has shown young people waste more food than other age groups. Three groups took up the ‘Research Project’ remit, offering ambitious designs to: understand how shopper diversity and different modes of provision (online, convenience stores etc.) affect food waste; understand young people’s food consumption practices; and understand how the imperatives of food waste and nutritional policy interact (and potentially conflict) in institutional settings such as schools and hospitals.

Dr Julian Parfitt (Anthesis Group), special advisor to the House of Lords Inquiry, gave the concluding keynote on ‘Closing the gap between policy and evidence gathering’. Julian was able to report on the House of Lord’s debate he attended just the day before, held in response to the Inquiry’s report.

Issues were raised about the gap between policy and evidence gathering at EU level, with a lack of consistency across Europe, and tensions between ‘standard of evidence’ and ‘urgency of action’. Julian concluded on the need for closer linking of food waste, food security and food sustainability, and for policy and actions that support whole supply chain approaches.

The Households, Retailers and Food Waste Transitions project concludes next year and will be reporting its findings through a dissemination event to be held in London.

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