Surplus food and the right to food:

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherpeer-review


Context: The UK Government has appointed (December 31 2018) its first Food Surplus and Waste Champion, as part of its Resources and Waste Strategy, to minimise waste, promote resource efficiency and move towards a circular economy (DEFRA, 2018). Simultaneously, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee recommended the appointment of a Minister for Hunger (10 January 2019). Food waste is a significant global issue and so the current debate on how to reduce it across the entire food chain needs to continue. Whilst there has been a similar focus on reducing food insecurity, it does not naturally follow that one is the solution to the other, irrespective of the political and legal momentum to combine the two issues as complementary. Popular and political media need to disaggregate the two distinct separate issues (food insecurity and food waste) and consider each as sufficiently significant as to merit its own informed and sophisticated debate.

Statement of the problem: It is the thesis of this paper that use of surplus, saleable food should not be viewed as the default solution for food poverty. To do so, may be viewed as serving “leftover food to left behind people” (Riches, 2018) which represents a two-tier approach to a rights-based food issue and serves to depoliticise hunger and absolve the government from their duty as signatories to the Sustainable Development Goals to deliver against published commitments for Zero Hunger and No Poverty.

Food waste: Tackling food waste and using resources responsibly and promoting a circular economy whereby we get every last possible use from resources can only be a good thing. To do so, encourages everyone across the food chain to value resources and hopefully reduce our practice of a throwaway economy equivalent to approximately ten million tonnes of food (worth £17 billion) every year, 60% of which is avoidable (WRAP, 2017).

Right to food: However, repurposing of wasted food continues to be the normalised response to the existence of food poverty (the inability to afford or access healthy food to meet our needs in socially acceptable ways) and misses the dignity and social justice issues of food poverty, while also being ineffective in reducing hunger or supporting clients out of poverty in the longer term. The use of surplus food as a response to food poverty is problematic because it serves to distract political and popular opinion away from the food waste issue, cannot guarantee a continuous supply of appropriate (socially of healthy) foods, and is ultimately demeaning to recipients. Instead, food poverty needs to be located within a context of dignity.

Recommendation: The existence of food poverty should not fall to civil society to solve; the primary duty bearer must be Government through joined-up, purposive policy making across government departments with remits for employment, social security, food, health, housing, transport and education. It is entirely possible to address the rising gap between income and food prices by pursuing policy actions that maximise income and benefit realisation in a sustainable way. Addressing the structural causes of food poverty through economically, socially and culturally fair and appropriate policy levers give us the greatest chance to lift our most vulnerable citizens out of food poverty. It is a disservice to our food poor to distract from the underlying socio-economic causes of food insecurity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 20 Jun 2019
EventThe Future of Food Symposium - Nottingham University, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 20 Jun 201920 Jun 2019


ConferenceThe Future of Food Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Food poverty
  • surplus food


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