UK families blow twice as much money on food waste as they think research shows

The Guardian – Friday 29th January

Sainsbury’s has come up with a novel way to get people to take their food waste seriously – by commissioning a study from YouGov to assess the value of the food people buy but don’t eat. The study shows that on average people think they throw away around £30 a month in food, but the real figure is closer to £60 a month. It’s a bit of a wake-up call when you add that up over a year, and the hope is that it will encourage people to be more careful about their waste. But it’s a shame that we don’t care about our food enough in the first place, not to waste it…

Sainsbury’s has also partnered with the town of Swadlincote on a range of other measures aimed at householders. They’re giving out fridge thermometers so people can ensure their fridge is at its optimum temperature (maybe not really a critical priority) and trialling a ‘leftovers label’ which counts down to the use-by-date. Evidence has shown that sell-by-dates cause most people to needlessly throw away a huge amount of food, so a ‘leftover label’ would probably function in a similar way.

Although it’s good to see Sainsbury’s getting serious with waste, there might be something a little suspect in their focus on householders, perhaps pointing the finger at them as a way to deflect attention away from the supermarket’s own waste?

Sainsbury’s has an environmental policy that includes waste management and they’ve invested in anaerobic digesters, so their food waste generates energy at least. All this gives a nice finish on their waste profile. However, Sainsbury’s HQ was Stop the Rot’s first point of call to deliver their petition on cutting supply chain waste, where supermarkets are among the worst offenders. Stop the Rot’s campaign calls attention to the 7 million tonnes of food wasted before it ever reaches the checkout. Sainsbury’s and the other big four supermarkets have a long way to go in cleaning-up practices which generate vast amounts of waste in food produced but not consumed because of cancelled orders and imperfect fruit and vegetables.

Food checks 25% down despite horsemeat crisis

The Guardian – Sunday 31st January

If lessons aren’t learned then they are generally repeated, so it’s likely another food crisis may be coming our way soon. Government cuts to local councils, who carry out food safety checks, are deepening, according to a new report by the Food Standards Agency. There have been significant cuts to the budgets of the Food Standards Agency and environmental health departments in local councils in recent years and this has inevitably had an impact on the ability of both to do their jobs effectively. The cuts have a direct correlation with the number of inspectors on the ground doing inspections – numbers are down 17% in the last five years, and with more cuts to come the situation is likely to get worse.

Also down is random testing of food to ensure it contains what is detailed on the label. Food fraud is rampant it appears, as the horsemeat scandal brought home with force. Despite the publicity and furore that the scandal generated, along with calls for more testing of food products, monitoring has slipped down over 25%.

Government ministers are truly playing with fire if they reduce the ability of local councils to oversee food standards. Campylobacter is rife in chicken sold in supermarkets and resistant strains of salmonella and E-coli are on the rise, so there are real dangers to public health on the increase. The indignation and anger of the public after the horsemeat scandal should be respected by public officials and it is their responsibility to ensure food is safe for consumption. If current cuts are eroding monitoring and standards, they will have much to answer for when the next scandal breaks.

Tesco knowingly delayed payments to suppliers

BBC News – Tuesday 26th January

The bad business practices of the retail sector are being laid out for the public, as Tesco comes under the scrutiny of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, Christine Tacon. In addition to the dubious accounting now being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office, Tesco has also been found to delay payments to suppliers, sometimes for up to two years, in order to make their own finances look better. While the company claims that no harm was done to suppliers, that’s certainly a debatable point.

The revelation of Tesco’s purchasing practices has led to a call for the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s powers to extend to farmers – it currently only covers ‘first tier’ suppliers of which there are very few farmers. An open letter has been published in the Telegraph signed by the NFU, Sustain, The Fairtrade Foundation and others, arguing that the Adjudicator’s power to act is important in protecting suppliers and encouraging better policies in purchasing and it should cover the whole supply chain, not just those suppliers with direct sales to the retailers. If this was accepted then the Adjudicator might have some jurisdiction to ameliorate practices that are driving the ever downward trajectory of milk prices, which is destroying Britain’s dairy sector.

Debt and higher prices push more farmers into selling

Farmers Weekly – Sunday 31st January

Farmers, as anyone even vaguely involved in agriculture knows, are almost always ‘asset rich and cash poor’. As a result, when cash flow starts to stagnate and liquidity hardens up, there is usually capital to draw on in the form of land. In a year when the commodities market has not been kind to farmers, they made up more than 50% of the sales, mainly generated out of debt and early retirement.

The price of land is currently the biggest deterrent to new farmers. Agricultural land is prohibitively expensive which means it is mostly being bought by investment bankers, corporations and ‘lifestyle’ buyers rather than farmers. With less land available to farm, there will be fewer farmers and with fewer farmers, Britain becomes increasingly dependent on imports and reduces its food security. What farming remains will become larger and more industrialised, extending the environmental degradation, poor labour practices and threats to public health that we are currently grappling with.

What can solve this? Strict covenants on land sales: if you buy agricultural land, you have to farm it. Like the new CAP stipulation that you must be an ‘Active Farmer’ to get agricultural subsidies, you should have to farm agricultural land if you own it. This reduces the number of possible buyers, keeping a lid on rising land prices. If it sounds a bit extreme, think of where Britain will be in 2050 when climate change is laying into agriculture and the world is growing steadily toward 9 billion people?

The surprising truth about the food movement

The Washington Post – Tuesday 26th January

Tamar Haspel questions just how much the ‘food movement’ is changing how people eat – finding largely that old habits die hard. There’s a long way between ‘should’ and ‘do’. People should eat better food, but they don’t. Levels of consumption of processed food hardly wavered in the period between 2000 – 2012; organic sales still only comprise 5% of the global market. According to Haspel, people may say they care about things like pesticides, antibiotic use and local food when you ask about these specifically, but what they say and what they actually do doesn’t always match up.

But does all this mean that there isn’t really a food movement or only a really small one? And does it matter if it’s smaller than we might think? As Haspel points out, it has a lot of influence, and there is some evidence that American diets are changing for the better. But Haspel is concerned that the consumers of the food movement only care about the food they eat which remains mostly pretty bad in her eyes and the inability to address bigger food system issues – environmental degradation, labour conditions and animal welfare – is a problem.

A concern for food safety and the presence of additives and chemicals in food is distracting from the real need for structural changes in the way our food is produced. For Haspel, ‘food movement’ consumers are focused on the wrong end of production, worrying about how food is processed rather than how food is grown. This leaves the change process in the hands of corporations like Unilever, who are mainly focused on making small concessions to health in a product that is never, ever going to be healthy. Consumers are stuck in a processed food paradigm they can’t seem to get out of. The danger of this, as Haspel points out, is that “at the end of the day, we’ll get the food supply we demand.”

Photograph: USDA

Sign up to our Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest SFT views and news