The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations or FAO (2017), defines food waste and food losses as “the decrease of food in subsequent stages of the food supply chain intended for human consumption”. In other words, this means in the supply chain, from the moment food is planted and harvested to the moment humans buy it and consume it, the amount of produce there was in the beginning has significantly dropped because it gets lost on the way from “farm-to-fork” (FAO,2017). It is estimated that about 23% of produce is lost before it even gets the chance to hit the stores.
This waste or loss can be either done on purpose or it can be accidental. Food loss can be caused by improper storage or packing, problems during transport, or it can even be caused by workers getting rid of produce that is not considered sellable (FAO, 2017). Supermarkets refusing to sell produce that is blemished or misshapen is a big contributor to food waste, so it should be required for them to sell these “ugly fruits” in order to cut back on food waste.
The FAO (2013) did a study to build on previous research on food waste, in this study they observed the impact of food waste and food loss on the environment. One of the things they noted is that cereals contribute to 34% of the carbon footprint of food wastage. Following closely after cereals are both meat and vegetables which each contribute to 21% of the carbon footprint of food wastage. The one thing no one thinks of when thinking of food waste is the effect that it may have on the world’s climate. According to the article “The climate impact of the food in the back of your fridge” by Chad Frischmann (2018), the U.N. Food and Agriculture organization states food waste has a contribution of 8% to global greenhouse emissions.
In a study done by Project Drawdown’s team of researchers, “cutting down on food waste could have nearly the same impact on reducing emissions over the next three decades as onshore wind turbines”. Frischmann (2018), also discusses how food waste occurs in different levels of the food supply chain depending on the income of the region. In regions that have more high and medium income, 40% of food waste is caused by consumers and in markets whereas in the low-income regions of the world 40% of food waste is caused in the “post-harvest and processing stages”. Food waste in landfills produces a large amount of methane which is 28 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide, this same methane can be converted into clean methane which can then be used to “provide enough energy to power 135,000 homes monthly…, can be used to heat homes, or bottled as diesel capable of running vehicles.(Payne, 2014).
Anna Krzywoszynska (2011) talks about the Tristram Stuart book “Uncovering the Global Food scandal” and how he believes supermarkets are the one of the biggest causes of food waste. She summarizes his main points, including how farmers are bound by a contract to certain retailers that prevents them from selling produce that isn’t bought to other retailers and there is evidence that supports this is true.
According to the FAO’s report on how food waste harms climate, water, land and biodiversity, “fifty-four percent of the world’s food wastage occurs ‘upstream’ during production, post-harvest handling and storage” (Kourous, 2013). Supermarkets may have less contribution than agriculture and households do but this is because it is the middle link between the two.
The supermarkets are the ones who put pressure on producers to produce unblemished “perfect” fruits and vegetables, meaning that producers will plant more in order to try and ensure that most of their crop will be bought (Brancoli et.al., 2017). Suzanne Goldberg (2016) a U.S environment correspondent states that almost fifty percent of produce is thrown away because of imperfections. In her article “Half of all US food produce is thrown away, new research suggests”, she talks about how farmers and truckers agree that large amounts of produce are either left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or shipped to landfills from the fields because of the standards that retailers set to have perfect unblemished produce.
Some producers have their produce rejected for the simplest of reasons and don’t dispute them over it for fear of the retailer never buying from them again, this leaves them with produce to sell but no one to buy it so it rots in warehouses and fields. One farmer stated that he once had a whole shipment of lettuce rejected because one head of lettuce was not up to standard, but for the reason stated above he didn’t argue because he didn’t want “to jeopardize $5m in sales over an $8,000 load” (Goldberg, 2016).
In order to reduce the amount of food rotting in the fields and warehouses, Grocery retailers should be required to start selling what is considered ugly fruits and vegetables- these are the fruits and vegetables that aren’t shaped perfectly or are blemished but are otherwise completely edible (Frischmann, 2018). One reason grocery stores have been hesitant to sell “ugly” fruit in the first place is they believe that consumers won’t buy it, which may be true in the United States for now. In 2014 in France, a supermarket by the name of Intermarche launched a campaign to show consumers “the beauty of ugly produce”.
During the initial campaign the amount of customers to the store actually rose 24% and because of its success other franch stores then proceeded to do something similar (Godoy, 2014). By encouraging U.S retailers to sell what is considered ugly produce, pressure is taken away from producers to plant more in order to have more of the standard meeting fruits and vegetables (Payne, 2014).
If producers start producing less, there will be less fruits and vegetables that rot in fields or landfills. There is already an online store called imperfect produce that sells “ugly” produce for a fraction of the price that grocery stores do. This is yet another reason supermarket should sell ugly produce, it would be much cheaper on the wallets of consumers. For example, at Giant Eagle, they sell imperfect oranges for $2.99 which is two dollars less than a bag of “perfect” oranges (Watson, 2016). By selling at this cheaper price it encourages the consumer to buy the fruit.
It would also help make sure the food won’t go to waste from here if the stores were prohibited from throwing away the fruit (Ee, 2017). Leftover produce could be given to food banks or grocery stores can make a profit with the produce they don’t sell to individual consumers. This would happen by selling their leftover produce to industries working on making food into fuel via anaerobic digestion (Bloch, 2018).
In doing this they would make money off of the produce that were unsold, and they would be contributing to finding alternatives to fossil fuels (Karthikeyan et.al., 2017). Another option would be to sell it as feed to livestock owners, this would also make the grocery stores profit and reduce feed costs for farmers (Gillman, 2018). Or they could sell them to stores looking to repurpose unwanted produce into things like jams, juices and chutneys, it would help small companies and make them money (Danovich, 2015).
In order for this movement to go forward, consumers should also take part in supporting this. The markets will always cater to what the consumer want and is asking for. That is why the French had success in their stores, people showed interest in actively trying to reduce food waste and other stores saw that Intermarche had success and also decided to implement the idea.
Food is something humans need for survival, because there are regions in the world that lack this necessity it is a terrible thing that there is such a large amount of food waste. Especially since food waste has negative effects on our environment and economy. One way to deal with this is to require grocery stores to sell “ugly” produce. By doing this there is less pressure on producers to plant more in order to have a large amount of produce that would fit the “beauty standards” set by grocery stores. By making this a norm, consumers may begin to accept it as the norm and will be less likely to throw away food that is still edible but misshapen or blemished, therefore reducing the food waste in landfills. Some grocery stores have started this process which helps a lot but it would be even better if they all did it.