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Acton-based City Harvest partners with St Paul’s Cathedral and highlights the £225m cost of throwing away food that could feed the hungry

Acton-based food charity City Harvest has partnered with St Paul’s Cathedral for the city church’s first harvest festival in many years.

The service also saw the launch of a new report in which City Harvest revealed that producers and retailers are paying over £225m a year to throw food away that could help to feed the hungry.

City Harvest’s chief executive officer, Sarah Calcutt said: “The idea of harvest festival as we broadly know it today originally took hold in the middle of the 19th century. One of its principal aims was to get food into workhouses and to the poor, the elderly and others in dire need.”

Ms Calcutt added: “The situation today feels shockingly similar. We’ve even seen a massive rise in diseases such as rickets and scurvy, which people tend to think of as Victorian illnesses. The fact that St Paul’s was willing to stage its first harvest festival in decades underlines how extraordinarily serious the issue of food poverty has become in this country. And yet producers and retailers are still throwing away staggering amounts of food.”

The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Reverend Andrew Tremlett said: “St Paul’s harvest festival is going to be a special occasion and in many ways a celebration, as harvest festivals have always been. It will, however, have a very important message too. There are an increasing number of people in London and across the UK struggling with the cost of living, and in particular the rising cost of food. That’s why we’ve chosen to partner with City Harvest who are working to tackle the issue of hunger, helping to ensure more people have access to healthy, nutritious food.”

He added: “Food poverty and insecurity is a serious problem in London, and my prayers continue to be with those who are being forced to skip meals and go without. St Paul’s, alongside churches and parishes across London, aims to offer love and dignity to all, providing food banks and support for local communities. Harvest Festivals can provide us all with an opportunity to give thanks to God and allows us to do God’s work, reminding us of those less fortunate than us and doing what we can to help them.”

In its City Harvest Food Report, the food charity revealed:

  • 64,500 tonnes of consumable food are processed by anaerobic digestion each year at a cost to producers who send the waste of £220 a tonne – over £14 million in total.
  • In total, across the country 4.5 million tonnes of fresh produce are wasted every year simply because of standards imposed on the food industry about size, shape and physical blemishes or because of oversupply.
  • This is equivalent to almost a tonne per person for the 4.7 million households in the UK that are ‘food insecure’ – in other words, who do not have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious, healthy food.
  • Assuming an average disposal cost of just £50 a tonne then the UK food industry is paying at least £225 million a year just to throw this edible food away.

Ms Calcutt added: “Charities like ours redistribute food at no cost to the donor – that helps businesses eliminate costs spent on storage and on disposal. So redistribution can address cost pressures in the food industry, while also helping vulnerable populations gain access to food. And our research shows it’s good for staff morale too – no-one in the food industry is happy throwing away good food.

“Simply incinerating surplus food or using it as landfill is at the bottom of the hierarchy of food recovery. It represents a terrible and often almost inexcusable waste. Crucially, there’s also a clear financial benefit in engaging with us, because the alternative is to spend money on needlessly disposing of food that could help still feed people. It’s vital that we drive that message home, especially when we’re in many ways witnessing a return to Dickensian times in terms of the appalling impacts of food poverty.”

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