Food-waste not; want not – the ugly truth

Featuring Richard Wadman | 23rd August, 2018

One of the oddest facts in the (increasingly) bizarre world we live in is the amount of food we waste. Not for first time research has shown we discard a staggering amount of food produce every year.

Impact of ‘cosmetic standards’

The latest research by the University of Edinburgh, published this week, studied how much food is discarded each year before it reaches the point of being sold, due to the application of ‘cosmetic standards’ to fresh fruit and vegetables in the Europe and UK.

The study examined how much food is thrown away within the European Economic Area before it gets on to shop shelves. They found that: “The use of aesthetics for classifying and accepting fresh food for sale and consumption is built into food quality standards and regulations of the European Union.

“The food distribution sector in Europe and the UK is oligopolistic in nature; a small number of supermarket chains control a large market share. The influence of these multiples enables them to impose additional proprietary ‘quality’ criteria.

“Produce that doesn’t meet these standards may be lost from the food supply chain, never seeing a supermarket shelf – it may not get past the supplier, or even leave the farm.”

Staggering and shocking statistics

The research also found:

An estimated one-third of farmed fruit and vegetables never reaches supermarket shelves because it is ‘misshapen’ or the ‘wrong size’

Farmers who are contracted to supermarkets typically grow more food than they are obliged to supply, to allow for a proportion that will not be deemed fit to sell.

This is estimated to equate to around 50 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables grown across Europe are discarded each year. In the UK alone the figure stands at 4.5 million tonnes a year.

The paper described food loss and waste (FLW) as “one of the great scourges of our time” when 10% of the world’s population is chronically hungry.

FLW – What can be done?

Stephen Porter, one of the authors of the report said, “Encouraging people to be less picky about how their fruit and vegetables look could go a long way to cutting waste, reducing the impact of food production on the climate, and easing the food supply chain.” Therefore, quite rightly, some of the responsibility and capacity for a positive change rests with us as consumers.

Scientists suggest that greater awareness among consumers, and a movement towards shopping sustainably, could encourage the sale of less uniform vegetables.

They also suggest a greater use of misshapen produce, for example in chopped, processed or picked goods, or for sale at a discount to charities

The research will be published in the Journal of Cleaner Production – highlights and abstract of the published research can be found at link

Another day; another report

In fact it was on the same day that the Guardian online highlighted a report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) warning “that the global response to food waste is fragmented and inadequate, and that the problem is growing at an alarming rate”. BCG have estimated that the amount of food that is wasted each year will rise by a third by 2030, when 2.1bn tonnes will either be lost or thrown away, equivalent to 66 tonnes per second or over a third of the total amount of food produced globally.

On the basis of extensive analysis of the food value chain from production through retail and consumption, BCG has identified five drivers of the problem, issues that—if addressed—could reduce the dollar value of annual food loss and waste by nearly $700 billion.

These include:

  • Changes to the supply chain infrastructure
  • Improving and expanding cold chain infrastructure
  • Investment in technology to repurpose and recycle waste
  • Changes to the policy environment
  • Adjusting regulations to make donations of food waste easier
  • Increasing the costs of discarding food
  • Improving collaboration in the supply chain
  • Collaboration on supply/demand forecasts
  • Introducing new purchasing agreements and models.

There is no doubt that the shocking amount of waste in the entire food supply chain needs addressing and will need input from everyone to engender change, it is not going to be an easy transition and will need mind set changes across the board. Let’s hope there is enough pressure from enough sources to make this happen, and soon.

PKF Francis Clark has a specialist food and drink team. Get in touch today to discuss how we can help your business richard.wadman@pkf-francisclark.co.uk.

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