Food waste in Australia has reached alarming levels, with supermarkets at the center of the issue.
The Australia Institute, a public policy think tank, has revealed that while supermarkets profit, they have been slow to support the removal of unnecessary use-by-date labels. This article delves into the rising food waste crisis in Australia and the need for policy changes to address it.
The Soaring Food Waste Problem
Australians waste a staggering 7.6 million tonnes of food annually, leading to a financial burden of $19.3 billion on households in 2018–19. The 2021 National Food Waste Strategy Feasibility Study uncovered that the average Australian household discards between $2,000 and $2,500 worth of food each year. This staggering amount of waste is concerning both economically and environmentally.
Supermarket Profits vs. Food Waste Reduction
The Australia Institute’s September 2023 discussion paper highlights a significant issue: supermarkets benefit financially from food waste, giving them little incentive to support policy changes. The profits gained from food waste create reluctance among supermarkets to remove best-before dates on products that do not require them.
Public Support for Change
Despite the reluctance of supermarkets, Australia Institute polling shows strong public support for policies aimed at reducing food waste. This support includes advocating for:
Labelling Reform: Consumers favor reforming date labels to reduce confusion and unnecessary discards.
Relaxed Cosmetic Standards: Many believe that supermarkets reject edible food based on appearance alone, leading to substantial waste.
Kerbside Collection of Food Waste: Establishing efficient waste collection systems to divert food from landfills.
The Urgent Need for Change
Senior economist Matt Grudnoff emphasizes that change is long overdue. Proposed reforms include removing best-before dates from products that do not require them, eliminating sell-by and display-until dates, and extending allowable use-by dates for long-life products. It’s essential to note that these changes prioritize relaxing cosmetic standards without compromising food safety.
Internationally, countries like the UK have already taken steps to address this issue. Supermarkets there have removed best-before dates on various items, including pre-packaged fruits and vegetables. Such measures have helped reduce food waste without compromising safety.
The Supermarket Dominance
Coles and Woolworths, the two largest supermarket chains in Australia, hold substantial market shares in both packaged groceries and fresh produce. Their influence in shaping food policies and practices cannot be underestimated.
The Farmer’s Perspective
Farmers play a crucial role in this issue. Approximately 10% of food waste is attributed to cosmetic standards imposed by retailers. Farmers often witness perfectly edible produce being rejected solely based on appearance, but they hesitate to voice concerns due to fears of losing business.
Public Opinion and Supermarket Response
A poll conducted by The Australia Institute demonstrates strong public support for reforms. Seventy-eight percent of respondents favor labelling reform, while 72% support relaxed cosmetic standards. In response, Woolworths expressed its commitment to reducing food waste and supporting sensible date label reforms. Coles acknowledged the need for an industry-wide approach, highlighting the importance of consumer education.
The soaring food waste crisis in Australia calls for immediate action. While supermarkets profit from the status quo, public support for reforms is evident. It’s imperative for supermarkets and policymakers to collaborate in implementing measures such as labelling reform, relaxed cosmetic standards, and efficient waste collection systems to mitigate the environmental and economic impact of food waste. Australia’s journey towards reducing food waste begins with acknowledging the problem and embracing change.