Nick Benson


Get your own House in order over food waste, Catholics tell MPs

Catholic politicians and environmentalists have ordered the House of Commons to act on its food waste after it more than doubled in the last three years.

New figures reveal that in the last year a “staggering” 282 tonnes of food was discarded by parliamentary estate caterers.

The Commons Commission, which is responsible for the administration of the estate, said it takes ‘various measures to monitor and reduce the amount of food waste’.

However the volume of waste has increased by more than 100 per cent since 2015 – rising from 130 tonnes to 228 in 2016/12 and 282 this year.

Lord David Alton of Liverpool expressed shock at the figures and suggested that actions speak much louder than words.

“It’s a truly shocking indictment that last year alone a staggering 282 tonnes of food were thrown away by parliamentary caterers. In weight this is the equivalent of 21 London buses,” Lord Alton told The Universe.

“Just think of the thousands of people it could have fed,” he continued.

“Parliamentarians need to urgently put their own House in order – and then lead by example in ensuring that food is not wasted on this shocking scale and in this shocking way.

“What is the point of all the fine speeches about development goals and tackling food shortages when deeds and words are so misaligned?”

Meanwhile, Ellen Teague, of the Columban Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, said she was disappointed at MPs in the House of Commons not being more active on the issue.

“They have a responsibility to act justly and raise awareness nationally. Although food waste is a huge problem, not that many people know how bad it is. They could give more leadership on this issue,” Mrs Teague told The Universe.

She pointed out that wasted food is bad for both the economy and the environment.

“It means that we are wasting our precious natural resources — especially groundwater used for local vegetables and fruit production, which has very little recharge rate and is getting rapidly depleted,” she said.

“The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that as much as one-third of food produced is lost or wasted throughout the value chain, from initial agricultural production, processing, transportation, storage and all the way to final consumption.”

Globally, this wastage amounts to about 1.3 billion tonnes per year and around $2.6 trillion, and accounts for about eight per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Lord Alton and Mrs Teague also highlighted the fact that some 795 million people – one in nine people worldwide – are undernourished.

Mrs Teague pointed out that this is the reason why the United Nations (UN) has set a target to halve global food waste by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all countries in 2015. Meanwhile Lord Alton said such statistics beg the question as to what such a waste of food says to those who are starving.

“We used to believe in the old saying ‘waste not, want not’,” he said. “Not anymore. Ours has become a throw away culture with little regard to the damage we do to the created world and with little regard to the choices we exercise at the expense of others.”

He noted that the Institute of Engineering and the London School of Tropical medicine and Hygiene published reports say between six per cent and 10 per cent of greenhouse gases are produced by food waste and that around 100 million tonnes of food was dumped in Europe in the course of the last year alone.

“Worldwide, if the food that is being wasted were available to eat, it would feed one billion people. Gandhi was so right when he said that there is sufficient in this world for our needs but not for our greeds,” he added.

Mrs Teague also insisted that the blame should not be entirely passed to politicians.

“Pope Francis has lamented our throw-away culture. We should all be more conscious of this issue, and change our behaviour — how we grow, shop, prepare and consume food,” she said. “We need to be responsible and producers, sellers and consumers of food to minimise waste, which will have co-benefits of saving costs — economic, social and environmental. Adequate and nutritious food consumption also provides health benefits and avoids health-care costs. We should take note in our homes and in our Catholic parishes and schools.”

Labour MP Mary Creagh, who chairs the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, explained there was also a broader problem of food waste – with the UK sending six million tonnes to landfill each year.

“The most effective way to boost recycling and tackle the six million tonnes of food waste the UK sends to landfill every year would be for ministers to support councils to introduce a separate food waste collection,” she said.

“The Government plans to ban food waste going to landfill by 2030, and Parliament – like every organisation in the country – will have to meet this target preferably well in advance of then.”

In response to the figures, a Commons spokesman said Commons catering outlets serve tens of thousands of customers annually and their food waste from prepared dishes is “well below the national average for the catering industry”.

“Food waste segregated from catering areas is sent to an anaerobic digestion facility to produce both ‘biofertiliser’ and methane gas for energy generation,” he added.

However, Dr Edward Echlin, an eco-theologian and Honorary Fellow at Leeds Trinity University, told The Universe: “I want to see Parliament reduce food waste, not complacently pat themselves on the back because they are sending it to be recycled in an anaerobic digester.

“Food is part of the soil community. It is there to nourish people, not to be turned into gas.”

Picture: Parliament. (Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto).