Our supermarkets are wasting good food while the UK’s poorest starve

One-third of the food produced in the UK never gets eaten – it never even gets to the shops! – but 13 million people in the country are struggling simply to afford the food our supermarkets offer.

That was the hideous truth behind yesterday’s (Monday, November 9) revelation that supermarkets reject fruit or vegetables that they do not consider to be cosmetically attractive.

The facts were uncovered by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in Hugh’s War on Waste, broadcast on BBC1 at 9pm. You should be able to find it on iPlayer for the next few weeks.

Probably the most appalling part of the film was the segment in which he visited a parsnip farm in Norfolk, where he uncovered the truth about the supermarkets’ strict cosmetic standards: any slightly imperfect fruit or veg are rejected.

Not only that, but evidence was put on screen showing that supermarkets have been cancelling or reducing orders for farm produce at extremely short notice, meaning produce being thrown on the scrap heap by the tonne.

This demeaning treatment had proved too much for the farming family in the film; it documented their last day as a business, having been forced to give up the livelihood they loved due to the supermarkets’ wasteful behaviour.

It’s not good enough.

This Blog has reported, many times, the straits into which the UK’s poor have been forced, simply to get food. Low-income working families are struggling to put food on the table – a situation that will become much worse in the future, no matter whether George Osborne cuts tax credits or Universal Credit; the unemployed and sick/disabled aren’t receiving enough benefit money to feed themselves properly; and some people have been cut off from all means of support – one such person was crushed to death by a refuse lorry while he was searching for food in litter bins.

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall tried to get one supermarket to acknowledge that perfectly good food was being thrown away, but achieved only minor success. While bosses agreed to display some less cosmetically attractive produce, they offered it at the same price as the rest, thereby putting customers off. The intention had been to bring prices down (so you can see why that would not appeal to the greedy chains).

Normally, that would be the end of the story. The supermarkets would have been exposed as money-grubbing pond-life, but with nowhere else to go, most of us would still have ended up supporting them, and nothing would have changed, in the normal run of events.

Would have.

But Mr F-W isn’t willing to let it lie. He has launched a campaign called #wastenot offering you a chance to get involved. I already did.

Like Mr F-W, I agree that wasting millions of tonnes of food a year is unacceptable.

I want the supermarkets to put a stop to this.

I want to help persuade supermarkets to take responsibility for the waste that they cause in the supply chain. I want them to relax their cosmetic standards for produce, and to stop changing orders at the last moment. They should do all they can to stop pushing the waste problem onto the farmers who supply them.

I also want to convince Britain’s food industry that it should make strenuous and visible efforts to redistribute all their surplus good food to those who are in need.

And, if you visit the #wastenot website, I think you will too.

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12 thoughts on “Our supermarkets are wasting good food while the UK’s poorest starve

  1. Joanna

    I’ve heard that Morrison’s is making a change to reduce wastage. by supplying homeless hostels with food that would have been thrown away. But the law also has to change which is tying the hands of supermarkets to change. If they give away food especially highly perishable foods, and someone gets ill the supermarket is liable.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Nobody’s suggesting supermarkets should give food away.
      Have a look at the programme and the website – there are links to both in the article.

  2. Mr.Angry

    I support this wholly I see on the farms it where I live it is a national scandal a lot can be gained if these idiots in power did something about it rather than spend their time supporting fracking,. But then again they stand to make millions to hell with the poor and less fortunate.

    Why do something that helps the masses goes against the tory grain excuse the pun.

  3. wildswimmerpete

    The Tory Corporate State where powerful Big Business completely control, exploit and abuse the means of survival. Under a sensible regime such so -called “cosmetically imperfect” food should be bought up and sold (or given) to soup kitchens and food banks. For instance potatoes, turnips, swedes, and yes parsnips, anything with a decent shelf life. Also goes for hard fruit such as apples and oranges. Anyway, what is “cosmetically imperfect”? I thought we were meant to eat our food, not to put it on the coffee table and admire it.

  4. Darren Woodiwiss

    I love Hugh’s campaigns, they are based on frustration. His Fish fight, Chicken out and Wastenot campaigns are on subjects where the facts have been known about for decades but various evasions and voluntary codes by government mean nothing ever happens.

    Hopefully politics are a changing!

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      It crashed last night due to the number of people trying to register. I’d advise trying again in an hour or so.

  5. Joan Edington

    I wonder what their definition of “cosmetically imperfect” is? I admit that, if I was looking for fruit, I would avoid those that were bruised or damaged. However, if I simply wanted to make a stew or soup, I couldn’t give a toss what shape my carrot was. All edible food should be allowed in supermarkets and the prices adjusted for those not-so-perfect items. We will soon have no farming left in the UK and be totally dependent on imports for food, as we are on many other products.

    I once asked a guy in M&S, who was packing food dated that day into a box, why they didn’t have a best-by shelf like most other supermarkets. He said it was because they used to have a policy of passing this food on to local homes etc. However, they were no longer allowed for H&S reasons. I would have thought that hunger wasn’t too healthy or safe either.

  6. mrmarcpc

    Doesn’t surprise me, we are a very wasteful people now in this country and many in our country go hungry, especially under these nazis! More should be done in tackling this problem, never mind lip service, action is needed, like this petition, signed it too!

  7. Jim Round

    It sounds great in theory, but both the attitudes of consumers and supermarkets need to change.
    The supermarkets won’t buy fruit & veg etc…. that will be left unsold, Tesco has already made a loss, the others are not in great shape because of the downturn an the shift to Aldi/Lidl.
    As previous commenters have pointed out, imperfect veg can go into stews or soups, problem is too many people don’t know how to cook (an idea for food banks, instead of DWP advisers)
    Also, a change in H&S Law is needed.

  8. Barry Davies

    Well we have been wasting fish for decades because of the quota system when the fishermen get to many they have to throw the back although they are dead already, now that is a wasteful situation that could have been addressed a long time ago.

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