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Food & Hunger

UK Farmers Are Wasting Enough Food to Feed Everyone in These 6 Cities

British farms are ditching a shocking amount of food and veg, according to a new report. 

The research, from food and environmental charity Feedback, described the extent of food waste in the global food chain as an “ecological catastrophe of staggering proportion.” 

And, according to the report, supermarkets play a key role in this supply chain waste.

Take action: Tweet Starbucks Asking Them to Donate 100% of Unused Food to Charity in the UK

Farmers surveyed by Feedback reported that the currently waste up to 37,000 tonnes of produce every year — around 16% of their crop. That amount would be enough to provide up to 250,000 people with their 5-a-day. 

Those farmers surveyed grow about 2.6% of the fruit and vegetables grown in the UK — using that as a sample size, Feedback estimated that between 2 million and 4 million people could have enough fruit and veg for a year, by eating produce that’s currently going to waste.

To put it in perspective, 4 million people is about the population of the cities of Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester, and Liverpool, put together.

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“It is extraordinary that we are still getting to grips with how we waste food throughout the supply chain,” said Peter Griffith, director of Farming Online, which collaborated in the research. 

“Not only that, but it is also wasting the resources that have gone into producing that food,” he said.

The report largely focussed on supermarkets’ involvement in the food chain. National commitments to cut down on food waste currently don’t include farms — so supermarkets are only being held accountable for waste that happens in-store.

Across the UK, supermarkets have over 85% of the market share of grocery stores and, according to the report, supermarket systems have “normalised overproduction and the resulting waste.” 

“Supermarkets need to be held responsible for the full extent of the waste they cause in food supply chains — not just the waste that comes from their stores,” reads the report.

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“To reduce food waste, we need to look at the systemic issues that drive food waste at a farm level,” it added.

Farmers told researches that they overproduce due to what the report describes as the “inflexibility” of supermarket contracts, with farmers describing pressure to always meet buyer orders or risk losing contracts.  

Carina Millstone, executive director of Feedback, said: “Despite a government and industry focus on food waste occurring in homes, our pioneering research finds that waste of farms, often a result of supermarkets’ outsized power in the supply chain, is significant and pervasive.” 

“Supermarkets need to recognise their part in driving food waste on the farms in their supply chain — and work with their suppliers to reduce this waste,” she added. 

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But fruit and vegetables are also rejected by supermarkets for cosmetic reasons — such as colour, shape, and size. 

Some supermarkets are taking steps to counter-act the waste — such as Tesco’s “wonky” fruit and veg ranges, Farm Brands and Perfectly Imperfect — but, according to Feedback, shoppers’ pickiness is still being driven by the supermarkets themselves. 

“We would like to see retailers relaxing their cosmetic standards to ensure diversity of shapes and sizes — factors that don’t affect the taste or quality at all,” report author Martin Bowman told the Independent. 

The report recommended that the government announces a national target to halve food waste “from farm to fork” by 2030. 

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include action on global hunger and creating sustainable cities and communities. That includes halving all food loss and waste “from the point that crops and livestock are ready for harvest or slaughter through to the point that they are ready to be ingested by people,” according to the Goals. You can join us by taking action here