The whole world seems to have suddenly woken up to the fact of food waste. Wow. How did that happen? The study by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers blamed poor storage, strict sell-by dates and fussy consumers for the huge piles of food discarded each year in the western world.
In the media frenzy that’s followed no-one seems to be thinking about the role of supermarkets. Not quite true. The Herald’s film writer (?) Alison Rowat wrote:
Due to supermarkets imposing strict standards on size, shape and colour, anything out of the ordinary is rejected. The IME reckons 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is turned down for such reasons. How do we like them apples? Not much is the answer. It is a scandal which exposes Western attitudes to food, the dominance of supermarkets and our general reluctance to value the simple and wholesome over the expensive and manufactured.
That’s about it.
Everyone else was focusing on us dumb consumers. But the reality is that we have allowed a few companies, ‘the big four’, to utterly dominate our food system. Now we stand, dazed and confused, at the obscenity of food waste. We shouldn’t be: that’s the system. Supermarkets are designed to get you to buy stuff you don’t need. That’s how they make their money. Why is this a surprise?
In Britain a new Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s or Asda opens every other day. There are just over 8,000 supermarkets in the UK, and they account for 97% of total grocery sales. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons take 76% of that market. One pound in every seven spent in Britain goes to Tesco alone.
So yes let’s get angry about food waste. But you need to ask: who controls the food system?
Remember, Methane is 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2. Yes food waste is an ethical issue, but not just one about hunger, this is also a climate change issue.
Is there a hierarchy to structured profligacy? According to Tristam Stuart, author of ‘Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’ there is:
“The Co-op is the best performing supermarket, 27 per cent more efficient than average. Sainsbury’s is the worst, apparently 14 per cent more wasteful than the average and 55 per cent worse than the Co-op. Morrisons and Tesco are about average and Waitrose and Asda are slightly more wasteful than average and around 47 per cent worse than the Co-op.”
Is there a better way? Of course there is. In Japan and Taiwan the government requires food businesses to reduce food waste by 65%. They also feed waste to their pigs, a practice we banned after the Foot and Mouth outbreak, a classic example of our dysfunctional food system turning in on itself. We can’t do something that is common sense because the rest of our food system is so rotten.
Here’s three killer food waste facts: