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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

FOOD WASTE: the disquieting effects of the supermarkets' contracts with farmers

Yesterday I listened to Farming Today with mounting alarm even some incredulity. Anyone who is interested in a sustainable planet and who missed this important edition ought to listen to it on the BBC’s iPlayer.

I was first alerted to the scale of the waste some months ago by a truck-driver friend who drives in Yorkshire. Last night he phoned from his cab in Scotland to report about his back-load of pallets of apples that had been rejected by a supermarket.

There is huge waste of perfectly good fruit and vegetables. There is nothing wrong with them, but they are the wrong size, shape or colour. This is defined by the supermarkets in their contracts with farmers.

This is bad enough, but it gets worse.

Farmers, in order to make sure they meet their contractual obligations, can over-plant by 25% knowing that a significant proportion of their produce will be rejected. Surely the food that is the wrong shape and size can still find a market, amongst those less fussy and/or poorer?

The supermarkets require that any food produced under contract for them and rejected by them is not re-sold. Much of it ends up ploughed back into the soil.

Every year 6.7 million tonnes of food are thrown away. That's about £10,000,000,000-worth according to the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn.

In my opinion, in a world of limited resources, financially challenged inhabitants and some going hungry, it is the supermarket contracts with the growers that are the wrong size and shape.

Supermarkets are leading consumers to believe that nature grows more consistently than it really does. Should we expect this?

Link to the Farming Today story. [begins at the 2:00 minute mark]

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Tags for Forum Posts: Food, contracts, farmers, fruit, supermarket, vegetables, waste

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Farming Today is really informative. Most of us city dwellers don't wake up at 5.45am, but you can do the ipod thing, and listen on the bus, as long as you keep renewing it every week. The Food Programme does not have a podcast, but you can "listen again" to the whole list. This week it's about the demise of the best sheep-milk yogurt in Istanbul due to that city's growth - no more urban sheep. It got me thinking: how about incorporating a yogfest into next year's Harringay food festival? And why not graze sheep on the 200 acres of grass so proudly mown by our Council? Green jobs for shepherds and shepherdesses and dairy workers. These ideas will seem less crazy as time goes by. Compare the story about the wrong size and shape. It's not a new story; it was one of the main reasons for starting farmers' markets, ten years ago. It's gratifying that so many people are now taking an interest in the way supermarkets treat their suppliers, and in waste.

This country imports at least 80% of its fruit. I have seen apples from Washington STATE in America being delivered to a shop in Turnpike Lane, while lots of fruit in our city goes to waste because nobody picks it: apples, pears, quinces, plums, berries. So, taking a lead from Waltham Forest (OrganicLea) and Abundance Manchester and Sheffield (see www.growsheffield.com), Haringey now has Urban Harvest, to be launched on 13th December (see www.urbanharvest.org.uk).

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