Wednesday 27 December 2017

'Morally broken' tax incentives mean homeless denied food left to waste - Michael Gove has said “much, much more” must be done to tackle food waste as it emerged producers are “incentivised” to send their surplus to green energy plants rather than to charities that feed the vulnerable.

 Michael Gove has said “much, much more” must be done to tackle food waste as it emerged producers are “incentivised” to send their surplus to green energy plants rather than to charities that feed the vulnerable.
Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food every year is either ploughed back into the ground or sent to animal feed or anaerobic digestion plants because it is cheaper than storing it or transporting it to where it is needed.
The food charity FareShare, which is being supported by The Telegraph’s Christmas Charity Appeal, today appeals to the Government to set up a £15 million fund that would cover storage and transport costs for 100,000 tonnes of food - enough to feed more than one million people every week for a year.
At present, only around 13,000 tonnes of surplus food is being sent to charities such as hospices, homeless shelters and women’s refuges.
Lindsay Boswell, the charity’s chief executive, said the Government has a “morally broken” policy towards food surplus, because anaerobic digestion plants are given financial incentives to turn food into energy, but food producers are given no such incentives to help charities feed people. 
He said: “Food that is in perfect condition is being turned into energy instead of feeding people because the Government gives green energy firms a guaranteed minimum price per unit for what they generate.
“That means they can afford to transport food and in some cases even buy surplus food from farmers, which gives the food producer an incentive to go down that route.
“In contrast, there is no financial incentive or support for a farmer or food producer to store food in an edible state, because that will cost them money, just as it costs money to transport the food to charities.”
FareShare says it costs around £150 per tonne to store and transport surplus food for charity use, meaning that £15 million would cover the costs of safely redistributing 100,000 tonnes of food - enough to feed more than one million people every week.
FareShare, which distributes food to 6,700 charities, estimates that a £15 million fund, available to any charity or producer that incurs costs redistributing food, would save charities £150m by making free food available to them rather than them having to buy food.  
Another alternative would be for food producers to be given tax credits for any costs they incur for handling, storage and transport so that giving food to charities would be revenue-neutral.
Frank Field, the Labour MP who has been a long-term campaigner against hunger, said: “The Government must rig the tax system in favour of food going to the hungry.
“They should make it one of their objectives for 2018 to make sure that organisations that are able to collect food and cook meals for those who need them are in a financial position to do so.”
The Conservative MP Heidi Allen said: “It cannot be right that good food is not being used for its primary purpose. Surely the Government should be able to step in and stop this dreadful waste?”
Earlier this month Mr Gove created a £500,000 Government fund to help charities that serve free meals, but Fareshare said the bigger problem lies in giving financial incentives to farmers and food producers to redistribute surplus food. 
Mr Boswell welcomed the £500,000 fund but said: “This fund does not address the core issue. The vast majority of surplus food is in bulk in the supply chain - farmers, packing houses, manufacturing and so on. “What is really needed is a simple and effective way where it does not cost food companies any more to get their surpluses to food redistribution charities than it does to send it to landfill or to become animal feed or energy.
“We continue to call on the Government to sit down and talk seriously about how the UK food industry can divert more surplus food to charities.”
The Telegraph understands that ministers have held informal discussions about giving farmers and food producers tax breaks to encourage them to get waste food onto tables.
Mr Gove said: “We need to do much, much, more to reduce food waste and ensure that the effort which goes into growing and producing quality food is matched by a determination to make sure it is eaten.
“For this reason I pay tribute to the Daily Telegraph Christmas Charity Appeal and their generous readers who have raised thousands of pounds for FareShare, a charity that does great work fighting hunger and food waste, and will make a significant difference to those facing a difficult Christmas without food on the table.
“I also urge the food sector to focus on sharing any leftover food with even greater efficiency, energy and enthusiasm.”
Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said: “Wherever food surplus cannot be prevented, it should be used to feed people rather than go to waste. We all need to work together to reduce UK food waste.”

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