The Environment for Food and Rural Affairs select committee announced last week its inquiry into the packaged food and drinks industry

Food packaging

(Credit: Pixabay)

An inquiry into the UK packaged food and drink industry has started “two years too late”, according to one of its key group’s chiefs.

The cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Efra) announced last week it will conduct an inquiry into the industry last week.

But Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) executive director Martin Kersh believes the investigation should have been swiftly followed an Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into coffee cups and plastic bottles in 2017.

This led to a proposal for a “latte levy” – a tax on takeaway coffee cups and complete ban on plastic water bottles at Westminster – which was later dropped.

The industry has also been asked to respond to an ongoing Department of Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) consultation into new packaging policies.

packaged food industry
Foodservice Packaging Association executive director Martin Kersh (Credit: IFETeam/YouTube)

He said: “The timing of this, to my mind, seems like it is two years late.  

“I would have thought the obvious thing would now be for this Efra inquiry to have waited until people responded to the Defra consultation and then have an inquiry on its responses.”


What is the Efra food and drink industry inquiry?

The Efra committee is looking for written evidence from major players in the food and drink packaging industry, addressing questions ranging from the barriers and opportunities for further innovation, and whether plastic is essential for certain products.

Chairman Neil Parish said: “Plastic currently pollutes this country’s soils, rivers and coasts, with millions of tonnes of plastic used in the UK every single year.

“It has become a global environmental problem.

“Once plastic packaging becomes waste, most of it doesn’t biodegrade – which damages the environment and affects a range of marine species.

“The committee is keen to find out what progress has been made in developing and using more environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastics and how they perform when compared to plastic food and drink packaging.

“It is imperative that we find practical ways to protect the environment and reduce the risks posed by increasing plastic pollution.

“We also hope to highlight how government action may help to alleviate this significant threat.”


Efra inquiry coincides with Defra consultation

The Efra inquiry coincides with the Defra consultation into new packaging policies, which started in February and is due to finish on 12 May.

One of the policies Defra will liaise with industry about is the introduction of a deposit return scheme in the UK.

As well as this, the British government, announced by the Chancellor Phillip Hammond in his 2018 autumn budget, will bring in a plastic packaging tax.

Mr Kersh believes it will be difficult for the industry to respond to the committee’s inquiry, even though he is a passionate supporter.

He said: “I’m a passionate support of Commons select committees, they have a huge role to play in our democratic system.

“However, I think it’s going to be very hard for the industry to respond to this.

packaged food industry
The inquiry into the packaged food and drinks market finishes on May 2. (Credit: Pixabay)

“Everyone wants to cooperate with the committee, absolutely 100%, it’s just genuinely an issue of time, it really is.

“Lots of us have the absolute intention of getting back to them, but there’s only 24 hours in a day, and we’re working flat-out in responding to the Defra consultation, which is almost 500 pages and something we really need to focus on.

“And we still have to worry about Brexit.”

Submissions to the inquiry for the Committee closes on 2 May.