With the announcement of the government’s latest policy idea comes that familiar mixture of disbelief and despair. This time, DEFRA is demanding that supermarkets end buy-one, get-one-free offers. The aim is to reduce food waste, but the proposal is idiotic from start to finish.
First of all, it probably won’t reduce waste. As those of us without a £400 per month food allowance know, supermarkets often offer two-for-one deals on products that are near their sell-by date, to get rid of them before they perish. It’s commonsense that banning the deals will mean more food ends up in the supermarkets’ bins.
Even if it does reduce waste, a ban wouldn’t help anyone. The market, left alone, allocates food pretty efficiently. Supermarkets offer BOGOFs because it makes them richer, and people buy them because it makes them happier. Banning them will eliminate mutually beneficial trades, and make both groups worse off.
To suggest that people are unable to manage their own grocery shopping, that the state needs to step in to make sure we’re not going home with more food than we can use, is as insulting as it is ridiculous. Perhaps Hilary Benn and chums would also like to regulate how long we grow our hair and what colour socks we wear.
This is the sort of creeping interventionism that constitutes an ever-growing threat to our economic liberty. If Tesco wants to give me a free punnet of strawberries then that’s up to them. If I want to amass vast quantities of perishable fruit and leave it to rot in my kitchen then that’s up to me. The government should keep well out of it.
The worst thing about the proposal is that it distracts from real problems. Tinkering with supermarket offers is a gimmick that diverts attention from genuine waste. DEFRA should take another look at the Common Agricultural Policy, that last year funded uneconomic agricultural production worth €55bn.