The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has rejected media reports that it plans to scrap Best-before labels in a bid to cut the 8.3m tonnes of food thrown away by households each year.
A DEFRA spokesman told FoodProductionDaily.com that while there were no plans to axe Best-before labels, which are protected under EU law, the government did plan to announce guidelines for retailers to help consumers understand labels more clearly.
The comments followed articles published on BBC News, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail which claimed the government was about to scrap Best-by dates.
Safe to eat
EU law specifies that pre-packed food must show a Best-before date, although many foods are still safe to eat after that date. In contrast, the Use-by date shows when food is no longer safe and should be thrown away.
DEFRA believes that helping consumers understand the difference will cut the mountain of healthy UK food needlessly binned each year. The department bases its view on advice from the government-funded Waste Research Action Programme (WRAP).
At least 60 per cent of the 8.3m tonnes of UK household food and drink wasted each year could be used, claims WRAP. About 5.3m tonnes of perfectly edible food per year, the equivalent of £680 per household, is thrown away each year; partly due to consumer confusion over labeling, it claims.
Environment secretary, Caroline Spelman said: “I am dismayed so much food goes to waste and if the date labels are part of the problem it’s one thing we should be able to improve.”
Kaarin Goodburn, director of the Chilled Food Association, told FoodProductionDaily: “There’s nothing wrong with the legislation. It is consumer understanding that needs to be worked on. Best-by dates are not part of the problem. What people understand by them is the problem.”
Bob Salmon, UK food rapporteur to European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) and a director of consultancy group Food Solutions, added: “Both Use-by and Best-before dates are defined in EU legislation, thus the UK cannot do away with either of them without a change in the legislation throughout the EU.
“If the government wishes to simplify dates on packaging, Sell-by and Display-until dates could be banned since these are applied by retailers for stock rotation purposes. They have no bearing on either food quality or food safety, but can be confusing to consumers.”
No one from WRAP or the Food Standards Agency (FSA) was able to comment on this news due to communication restrictions surrounding the UK local elections to be held on May 5.