Stopping good food from going to waste
The European Parliament reacted to pressure from the global food waste movement last Wednesday, when MEPs voted yes to an amendment to the Circular Economy Bill that, if passed, would oblige supermarkets to offer unsold food to charities.
The EU is currently running a public consultation on a revised Circular Economy Package following on from its decision to withdraw the original package to create a 'more ambitious' version. Feedback, the environmental organisation I founded, has joined other organisations across Europe calling on MEPs and the commission to stop good food from going to waste.
However, supermarket back-of-store waste is only a part of the wider problem of food waste. Retailers themselves claim that the amount of food wasted at this level is between one and three per cent of the entire supply chain. Indeed, the vast majority of food is wasted before it even reaches the supermarkets, much of it being dumped on farms.
Feedback’s investigations show how an average of 45 per cent of food grown for Europe is wasted in Kenya as a result of unnecessarily strict cosmetic specifications. Supermarkets use these specifications to dictate the exact size, shape and colour of food that can be exported, and farmers don’t get paid for anything that doesn’t meet these grades.
Yet these specifications are enforced and relaxed depending on market forces rather than a genuine desire for uniformity. In some cases food is rejected on the ground of not meeting specifications, when in fact a forecast order has been cancelled due to lack of demand.
Last minute order cancellations leave farmers around the world without payment. In Kenya this leads to farmers being forced into cycles of debt just to feed themselves, send their children to school, and pay their workers. When orders are cancelled, temporary day labourers, often paid less than $2 (£1.29) a day, won’t get paid at all.
Nearly 920,000 people have so far signed Feedback’s petition to stop supermarkets dumping waste on farmers, calling on national leaders to establish authorities to investigate supermarkets' unfair treatment of their suppliers, much like the UK’s Groceries Code Adjudicator.
It is now illegal for UK supermarkets to cancel orders on their direct suppliers without compensating them, and the EU is consulting member states on how to implement similar measures across the union. Feedback will take this petition, alongside evidence from research in countries as diverse as Kenya, Guatemala and the UK to MEPs and the commission this year to demand an end to unfair trading practices that force farmers to waste tonnes of food.
Using land to grow food that is never eaten is not only a grave waste of precious resources, but in a world where millions of people go to bed hungry, it is symbol of the systemic problems of our food system.