Tag: agriculture

Environmental and Economic potential of surplus food as pig feed

31st Jul 19 by Christina O'Sullivan

Feedback's Martin Bowman outlines how Europe is getting closer to finding a safe way to safely process surplus food into feed.

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The on-farm food waste mountain

25th Jul 19 by Martin Bowman, Policy and Campaigns Manager

Feedback reacts to WRAP’s announcement today that around 3.6 million tonnes of food is wasted annually on UK farms.

Today, WRAP have released a ground-breaking report, for the first time revealing estimates of the food wasted on UK farms. Including the 2 million tonnes of surplus (usually human-edible food used as animal feed), there is a total of 3.6 million tonnes, more than the food waste and surplus at manufacturing and retail level combined.

Farmers are frustrated

This confirms what Feedback have long been hearing from UK farmers. But it would be a mistake to blame farmers for this waste. Feedback’s Gleaning Network saves leftover food from UK farms for charity, and we regularly speak to farmers who are devastated to have to waste perfectly edible food that they’ve toiled long hours to grow. Why? Feedback’s report Farmers Talk Food Waste found that UK fruit and vegetable farmers were forced to waste 10-16% of their crop due to supermarket and middlemen practices – including rejections of food for being the wrong size and shape, encouraging systemic overproduction by punishing undersupply, low farm-gate prices which sometimes below the cost of harvest, and Unfair Trading Practices like last minute order cancellations. We need to support farmers by reforming these supermarket practices, to help them reduce costs and waste.

The problems of sugar, milk and meat

Some of the more surprising findings of WRAP’s report are the scale of food waste occurring in sectors outside fruit and vegetables. For instance, they find that the highest volumes of food waste by weight occur for sugar beet – 347,000 tonnes or 3.9% of production. Sugar is not only bad for the nation’s health and teeth, but it has hugely negative impacts on soil erosion and uses up more land than the rest of UK vegetable production combined – we’ll be releasing more on this soon through our sugar campaign. The report also finds that the 4th most wasted product is milk and the 6th is poultry. Much of this is as a result of animal diseases and contamination, so this is not necessarily edible to humans. However, given the huge environmental footprint of meat and need to slash UK meat production and consumption to stay within safe limits of climate change, it’s startling to see such large volumes wasted. See our campaign The Cow in the Room for more info.

Producing food which is never eaten is a vast waste of natural resources including land, water and soil at a time of environmental emergency – this presents a huge opportunity to liberate land and resources which are desperately needed for reforestation and growing sustainable food. A report commissioned by the Committee for Climate Change recently found that reducing food waste could save considerable carbon emissions and liberate 482,000 hectares of arable land and 459,000 hectares of grasslands – and their calculations did not include food wasted on farms, which could contribute even more. We now know that planting trees is one of the most important ways we have to prevent a climate crisis – so this liberated land presents great potential.

Up to 5,000,000 tonnes

But WRAP’s figure is still an estimate – mainly based on non-UK data and self-reporting by farmers which is notorious for underreporting food waste. Therefore, this may well be an under-estimate of the levels of waste – the data isn’t good enough to tell yet. WRAP’s report estimates that the reality is probably somewhere in between 1.9 and 5 million tonnes per year – if it was 5 million tonnes, it would be nearly as much edible food as is thrown away by consumers.

Throughout the EU, farm-level food waste is almost completely ignored, assumed to be minimal and unimportant due to a pervasive narrative that this only a problem in the Global South due to lack of storage and infrastructure. Feedback have been campaigning hard to persuade the EU to measure food waste on farms, but the Commission recently made the terrible decision to exclude almost all on-farm food waste from the compulsory food waste measurement EU countries will have to begin in 2020. But due to campaigning, a ray of light is that the Commission has now pledged to release funds for some pilot studies to measure agricultural food waste in more detail.

The reason that UK data is still so shaky is that the government has consistently cut funding for food waste measurement and prevention. WRAP originally estimated that they would have robust data ready by 2018, but with limited funding this deadline has drifted. Now we know the scale of the problem, we need the government to fund detailed measurement of on-farm food waste to go beyond estimates and generate accurate baselines from which to set targeted reduction of on-farm food waste – like for other sectors.

Going backwards

We also call on the government to renew the Groceries Code Adjudicator and extend their remit to protect indirect suppliers like farmers from Unfair Trading Practices like last-minute order cancellations which cause waste. This is particularly important in the face of the current Adjudicator Christine Tacon’s surprising advice that the UK move back towards a system where Unfair Trading Practices are self-regulated by the industry. The Groceries Code Supply of Practice was self-regulated by industry for years before the Adjudicator was introduced, and without an independent regulator with power to punish businesses for non-compliance, supermarkets predictably failed to self-enforce the Code. It is difficult to see why voluntary self-regulation would be any more effective now. The farming industry and NGOs campaigned hard for years to achieve the introduction of a regulator with teeth to fight Unfair Trading Practices, and this gain must not be reversed.

Finally, Feedback calls on supermarkets to relax cosmetic standards on their core product ranges, pay farmers a good price for their produce, stop punishing their suppliers in cases of undersupply, and flexibly market gluts of produce. WRAP’s figures show that a worrying amount of produce is still being wasted, despite the launch of wonky veg ranges – retailers need to use wonky veg ranges to test their consumers’ acceptance of lower cosmetic specs, and then relax cosmetic specs for their core product lines accordingly.

The fight against food waste on farms continues! Want to witness the food waste first hand? Click here to get involved in one of our gleaning days.

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Carina Millstone discusses the problem of food waste on Roundtable

3rd Jun 19 by Carina Millstone, Executive Director

Food waste is not simply a matter wasting money, it takes a huge toll on the environment. Guests discuss this issue on Roundtable.

Carina Millstone, Executive Director of Feedback, features with other guests on Roundtable, discussing the real problem of food waste and its impact on the environment.

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The Steaks are High – exposing the investors and banks propping up Big Livestock

17th Apr 19 by Carina Millstone, Executive Director

The message of what we need to do to save the planet is clear, but who's been financing the earth's demise?

In a week when Extinction Rebellion’s occupation of major London landmarks has focused minds, and even Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England is calling on global banks to face up to the climate emergency, thoughts turn to practical action to stave off climate change and mass species extinction. The message that we should all ‘cut down on meat and dairy to save the Planet’ has brought some comfort – at last, something doable! Yet while the appearance of bleeding beetroot burgers and vegan sausage rolls on the high street are to be celebrated, the best way to cut our national meat intake quickly and at scale is to significantly curtail meat production. That’s because, and I speak as an expert here, you’re not going to be eating many sausages if you don’t have any pigs…

For a while now, many of us working in food and environment have been reluctant to talk about reducing meat production. We don’t want to be insensitive to the difficulties faced by British farmers; we fear further polarising the vegan versus flexitarian versus omnivorous debate. We’ve hidden behind the excuse that it’s hard to convey that not all meat is equally bad, and that in the right farming systems, some livestock may play an important role for soil health and nutrient cycling. But lengthy debate has meant we have failed to point our collective finger to the type of animal farming we all agree we want to see the back of: Big livestock, which can be characterised by industrial production methods and corporate ownership structure.

It’s not just about the USA

The application of industrial processes to animal agriculture is usually thought of as an American phenomenon, and, as an aside, the most firmly impressed memory of my Californian honeymoon is the sorry sight of cows in a huge muddy complex by a highway somewhere near Fresno: thank you Dairy Farmers of America. But Europe has its own industrial meat and dairy: be it the gigantic Danish and Dutch pork industries, pig farming in Northern Ireland or the ‘megafarms’ increasingly blighting the British countryside. Big Livestock’s second characteristic, its entity as a corporation, also gives the industry a global footprint through financial flows, often international and opaque, regardless of where operations are sited. Zambian beef factories are traded on the LSE, which strikes me as a good example of much of what is wrong with a corporate controlled food system.

It’s the industrial processes of Big Livestock that make it such a climate offender; it is Big Livestock that is responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the meat and dairy sector, close to 15% of total emissions today. Big Livestock is also driving alarming biodiversity loss and species extinction, soil and aquifer depletion. More terrifyingly still, its reliance on antibiotics, the only way to keep so many animals held in such cramped conditions healthy, is driving antimicrobial resistance so that C-sections and other operations may soon become too risky to carry out. One day, we will wonder why one industry was allowed to so casually squander the gains of modern medicine.

It doesn’t end there

To make matters worse, the corporate structure of Big Livestock means industrial meat and dairy firms exist to maximise their profits – and grow and grow until, by 2050, and according to the seismic report by the IATP and GRAIN, the greenhouse gas emissions produced by Big Livestock will account for 80% of all allowable global emissions to remain below a 1.5 degree warming, assuming other sectors decarbonise. Sure, that’s a rather big assumption, but the salient point is that while other sectors could decarbonise through the energy transition, the climate impacts of industrial meat and dairy are almost entirely due to animal feed production, enteric fermentation for ruminants, and manure. To the lay man: food, burps and farts and faeces – all essential parts of growing animals and producing meat and dairy, which will continue regardless of any possible discontinuation of fossil fuels. What I am getting at is that there is no possible low-carbon version of the industry.

The choice before us is as follows: let Big Livestock get on with their business-as-usual and call it a day on the climate, Planet, and health and wellbeing, or end Big Livestock now. Now give me a moment with that one…

Ending Big Livestock may seem a tall order, but, having spent much of my career working on intractable environmental problems, I am surprisingly upbeat about this one for three reasons.

First, there’s no escaping the fact Big Livestock is not a pretty industry. Let’s not forget the business of industrial meat and dairy corporations is the business of suffering and slaughter of sentient beings on a mass scale, with devastating impacts for human and planetary health to boot. No wonder these corporations keep such a low profile and many of us would struggle to name more than one or two, if any. It’s just very hard for anyone to argue in favour of Big Livestock (slaughterhouse jobs are so poor that even the ‘jobs’ argument is hard to effectively formulate); suffice to say I have never come across someone wearing an ‘I heart Cargill’ T-shirt.

Second, unlike the other industry that must end now to stabilise the climate, the fossil fuel industry, Big Livestock is a small, discreet sector of the economy, not in any way foundational. Shutting down the oil industry overnight would have dangerous ramifications across our economy and society while the impacts of shutting down Big Livestock would be limited to the industry and its suppliers. As for its customers, alternatives to industrial meat and dairy already exist: we already know how to grow plant-based protein and turn it into delicious dishes. Unlike the transition to renewable energy, low-carbon transport or housing, the shift to a food system in line with the Paris targets, where diets are largely plant-based, does not require the acquisition of new knowledge, the building of new infrastructure or the deployment of new technologies. We already have all that we need. The transition to plant-based diets and the end of Big Livestock could happen overnight, tonight.

Third, when we talk about Big Livestock, we’re not talking about an enormous, amorphous industry. We’re referring to a few dozen, gigantic corporations, the likes of JBS, Tyson, Danish Crown, ABP Foods. All it will take to end Big Livestock is for a few dozen companies to go out of business. Simple. Corporate bankruptcies have happened before, they can happen again, especially since we’re talking about an industry whose bloody wares are starting to look a bit 1950s in the age of the aquafaba meringue.

The Steaks Are High

At Feedback, we will shortly be launching our new campaign, The Steaks Are High:The End of Big Livestock to help hurry along Big Livestock’s inevitable demise. Our plan is to bring Big Livestock’s threat to our climate, food, health and medicine to the fore, and expose the banks and investors that are propping up this catastrophic industry though debt or equity. We’ll be taking a close look at university endowments, foundation investments, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, banks. After all, students, charity beneficiaries, pensioners and all citizens have a right to know if they are in any way connected with Big Livestock through their institutions or savings – and to say out loud they don’t want anything to do with such a destructive industry.

Get in touch with us if you’re interested in being involved – and stay tuned, and in the meantime, don’t forget to pledge to reduce your own meat intake.



Image: “A rotary milking parlor at a modern dairy facility, located in Germany” by Gunnar Richter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
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Gleaning Photo

The Future of Gleaning

15th Apr 19 by Dan Woolley, Head of Pilot Programmes

Gleaning is an ancient tradition, but what is its future? Dan Woolley reflects on how far it has come, and what's coming next.

Back in 2012 Feedback took a small group of volunteers to a field in Kent to rescue a glut of cabbages and cauliflowers that were not wanted by the supermarkets. From this small seed of an idea blossomed something as bright and beautiful as a field full of brassica: we called it The Gleaning Network.

More than six years since that first gleaning day, we’re immensely proud to look back on all we’ve achieved. But it’s important to also look forward: to consider the role of gleaning in the rapidly changing landscape of food, food waste and farming. So here I want to look at the future of gleaning. I want to share ideas on how gleaning can become a sustainable, replicable and nationwide project; one that serves the interests of communities, farmers and the planet we all share.

But first, here’s a quick recap of what’s happened in the world of gleaning thus far.

Gleaning past and present

For as long as human beings have grown crops, there have been times of surplus; such is the variability of weather. Gleaning – whereby a farmer allows people onto their land to gather leftover crops or grain – seems to have arisen as both a practical and an equitable response to dealing with such instances of surplus. No one knows for sure when and where the practice originated, but we do know it’s referenced in the Old Testament. “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest… you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger.” (Levictus 9:9-10).

Fast forward to the 21st century, food surpluses still exist – only they no longer occur sporadically, unpredictably, or at small-scale. Instead, overproduction and waste is embedded into our agricultural systems, as a rational response by farmers to the need to guarantee their supply for capricious supermarket buyers.

Yet growing all this food consumes vast quantities of water, energy and fertiliser (as well, of course, as land), while exhausting our soil fertility.

2012: step forward, Olympians

In 2012, as our research was beginning to reveal the sheer scale of waste which can occur on farms, we decided that gleaning was needed once again. While we at Feedback have always maintained that redistribution is not, in itself, a solution to food waste, we knew that the efforts of food redistribution organisations were hindered and frustrated by a lack of access to fresh, nutritious food. It is worth adding that, sadly, redistribution agencies are all too often used by supermarkets and other food businesses as a dumping ground for cheap, poor quality, low nutrition food.

We believed, too, that gleaning had an important role beyond redistribution – one focused on the deeper systemic problems and the longer-term solutions. While food waste was slowly making its way onto the radar of both policymakers and the public, farm-level food waste was almost always absent from the conversation. The Gleaning Network sought to address this in a number of ways. By working with farmers to understand the drivers of food waste and the imbalances of power. By taking large numbers of volunteers to farms to witness first hand the scale of food waste. And by working with the media at every level we have been able to bring evidence and stories into the spotlight.

From small acorns…

The Gleaning Network has now worked with over 60 farmers and 2,000 volunteers to rescue more than 400 tonnes of fruits and vegetables. We’ve been truly inspired by so many of those people. By the volunteers who turn out in rain, sleet and driving winds to spend their day plucking kale and brassica from muddy fields (people of north west England, we salute you!). By those farmers who time and again open their fields to our volunteers, donating their time and support to the cause and their vegetables and fruits to those in need. By the college student who, surrounded by endless rows of food waste, put the situation into beautifully simple words: “food waste is crazy!” You have all been inspirational.

There are still also many people whom we have not worked with. These include the thousands of people who have signed up to our gleaning volunteer list, but who live in parts of the UK where gleaning has yet to take root. They also include the several dozen people who have written to us over the last six years to express interest in setting up a gleaning hub in their region. We’ve always wished we were able to offer more support to all these people. The reality, however, is that it simply hasn’t been possible – until now.

Community-led Gleaning

We know from the conversations we’ve had in the field, that gleaning has often been a focal point around which communities can (re)connect. We believe the time is now right for Feedback to help communities to take the lead:

  • In 2019 we will offer support and training for a number of community groups in England (for groups in Scotland, Wales and N.I., please see below), giving them the knowledge and experience they need to setup and run their own local/regional gleaning project.
  • Here we use the term ‘community group’ in its broadest sense: we are interested to work with groups, organisations, projects and enterprises of all shapes and sizes. The formal/legal structure of your group is at this point less important than your enthusiasm!
  • As part of this project we will create a bespoke gleaning website which will host a range of resources. We envisage that these resources will be made available for use by groups throughout the UK (not only those in England) and potentially beyond.
  • We will also explore ways in which these new gleaning groups can support and share knowledge with one another.

If you are interested to find out more about any of these ideas, or to register an interest in community-led gleaning, we’d love to hear from you. You can fill in the form by clicking here to express your interest.

Thank you – it’s been an amazing journey so far, and we can’t wait for the next chapter.

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Too Much of a Bad Thing

11th Mar 19 by Carina Millstone, Executive Director

Just a Spoonful of Sugar Depletes our Soils and the NHS Budget in the Most Delightful Way (for the Weston family and their foundation)

Feedback’s Executive Director Carina Millstone explains why growing sugar in the UK is causing catastrophic soil degradation and how the industry is lining the pockets of one wealthy family and their foundation.

If you’re after evidence that we urgently need to change how we produce and consume our food, look no further than the sugar beet. Sugar beet could be considered the ‘poster crop’ for pretty much everything that is wrong with our globalised, corporatised food system.

Despite the UK’s modest size, it is the 11th largest producer of sugar beet worldwide, behind giants in the top 10 such as Russia, the United States or China. This gives our nation the dubious honour of having the largest proportion of our land devoted to sugar beets of all countries. No wonder Brits have such a sweet tooth – and spiralling rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Whilst the disastrous health impacts of sugar are well-known – thanks to the superb work of Action on Sugar, Sugar Smart and others – yet we are only beginning to understand the catastrophic effects of sugar beets on the environment and food security.

No sugar coating

For evidence of what sugar beet is doing to the environment, two seminal reports released in the last few months come to mind. Firstly, the determinedly optimistic report from the EAT-Lancet Commission and secondly the truly terrifying This is a Crisis report from the IPPR. The former makes it very clear that sugar consumption in countries such as the UK must be reduced by at least 50% if we are to secure healthy diets for all without catastrophic biodiversity loss and climate change. The latter reminds us that global and British soils are now so depleted as to affect our future ability to grow food. Some of the most affected soils are in East Anglia, the very heart of the century-old sugar beet industry.

So why are we still growing and eating sugar when it’s quite clearly a disaster for both our health and planet? To answer this question, I asked myself who’s making money from the stuff? Some cursory googling revealed some truly startling answers.

Who really are British Sugar?

British Sugar is the sole processor of sugar beet in the UK – if you’re a sugar beet farmer wanting to bring your product to market, there’s no escaping the company. Its name may make it sound like a quaint throwback to the era of public ownership, but don’t be fooled. The monopoly is in fact a subsidiary of AB Sugar, itself part of Associated British Foods or ABF, a ‘diversified’ business whose brands include Ryvita, Twinings and, incongruously, Primark.

ABF is listed on the London Stock Exchange, but the corporation is majority owned by holding company Wittington Investments Ltd, which is itself 20% owned by the Canadian Weston family and 80% owned by the Garfield Weston Foundation. The Foundation is one of the largest grant giving foundations around, who, with no discernible trace of irony, give funds to a range of health and environmental causes in the UK (including, historically, and for full disclosure, to Feedback).

Who benefits from UK sugar production?

Put another way: British Sugar exists to line the pockets of a wealthy family, and, to give the Westons credit where it’s due, their undoubtedly generous philanthropic activities. And yet the enrichment of the Westons and of their foundation comes at a terrible cost to our soils, climate and health, which no amount of charitable donations can put right.

The true cost

Whist the environmental costs of British Sugar’s activities are hard to quantify, the cost to the NHS are all-too known. In fact, our fondness (or perhaps addiction) to sugar is one of the great threats to our healthcare system. Shocking fact: the NHS spends more on treating obesity and diabetes than is spent by the government on the police, the fire service and the judicial system combined.

Not only is the public paying for the health ‘externalities’ of British Sugar, it is also subsidising the production of beets in the first place. In fact, a recent study has shown that some 3,500 British sugar beet farmers are currently receiving public subsidies to the tune of €29 million a year to grow their beets (which is, at the same study points out, and in a somewhat pleasingly unfortunate coincidence, the same amount spent by NHS England extracting children’s rotten teeth under general anaesthetic.)

30% of the world’s arable land has become unproductive due to erosion.

Institute for Public Policy Research

British Sugar is a remarkable case of private profit generation at massive socialised health and environmental loss. I was truly shocked and angry when I realised this, and as a parent trying to limit my children’s sugar intake, still am.

Ending the sugar rush

If the government wishes to improve health in the UK, the sugary drinks tax may be a good start but will ultimately not cut it. How can we expect sugar consumption to reduce when the industry is fighting decaying tooth-and-nail to grow? What we need instead is a structured government programme. We need to both reduce sugar consumption and production: the agricultural policies need to work with health policies, not against them.

In the coming months, Feedback will be launching our Too Much of a Bad Thing campaign calling the government to support farmers to move away from growing sugar beets. Instead, support them to grow crops and manage their land to provide good nutrition. We want to see support for re-wilding or afforestation for carbon dioxide removal (possibly throwing in a few sycamore trees for our sweetness fix), in line with Mr Gove’s oft-quoted ‘public money for public goods’ principle.

Stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, British Sugar are asking us to #BackBritishSugar. I would suggest #BackOffBritishSugar is a more apt alternative for a product that is bad for us and bad for the Planet.

Image: David Wright / Sugar Beet Crop on the Saxby to Barton Road
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Desperately seeking climate ambition

12th Dec 18 by Jessica Sinclair Taylor

Why food and the food supply chain needs to be addressed as a part of the solution for climate change.

“There’s a need to raise ambition…”

This phrase seemed to echo in the corridors and meeting rooms of the UN’s latest round of climate change negotiations. This is code for change is not coming fast enough, and it will soon be too late.

The prevailing mood during the first week of the conference, despite many exciting projects and innovative science, seemed to be one of grim determination. Clinging to hope against the odds and against mounting evidence that time is running short to address climate change and prevent dangerous levels of warming.

When we need to be so ambitious, it seemed incredulous that the host government were promoting ‘clean coal’ whilst nearly everybody agrees that the best place for coal is in the ground. The statement of António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, sounded bleak and almost despairing when he said that the time had come for civil society to turn to sub-national governments and cities to take forward the standard for ambitious action.

So why were we there?

Feedback were at COP24 to try to ensure that amid green energy, climate finance and low-carbon transport, the role of the food system and in particular, preventing food waste will be a key part of the conversation about reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions. Furthermore, addressing runaway production and consumption of industrial meat.

Why meat?

We are concerned in particular with the mass production of meat and dairy by large global corporations, who could be termed ‘Big Meat’. If they continue on a business as usual basis, they will gobble over 80% of our carbon budget in 2050 to remain below 1.5° Celsius of warming. Look out for more on this from my colleague Carina Millstone soon.

Food, food waste and climate change

As far as food waste is concerned, halving it by 2050 has been ranked as the 3rd most effective response to climate change in a comprehensive review by Project Drawdown, and preventing waste is literally one of the low-hanging fruits of addressing food system emissions.

Despite the urgent need for action on the climate challenge posed by our food system, we were struck by the conspicuous absence of major food corporations at COP24. Sad to say, it seems that food corporations still aren’t too worried about their role in generating runaway climate change. They also don’t appear to be concerned with what regulators might do to circumscribe their more damaging business practices, such as the colossal waste that occurs in food business supply chains. I discussed this on a panel at the UK ‘pavilion’ (essentially the UK government’s stand at COP), challenging the UK government to push forward the trend towards transparency by businesses on their food waste. Most importantly, this must include waste in their supply chains, particularly on the farms that supply them.

What can policy do?

We need to ask our governments – regional and national – to use public spending to prioritise local, low-waste food chains. Why should a hospital in Devon be contracting a multinational food corporation like Sodexo to supply their patients’ meals, when they could be sourcing healthy, plant-based and low waste meals on their doorstep?

Food waste is only one aspect of how our global food system squanders resources and encroaches on delicate ecosystems, as well as contributing a major whack of GHG emissions. But halving food waste – at least – by 2030, in line with the global Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, is a goal that makes sense on all sorts of levels. One thing COP24 taught me is that it’s time for citizens to take matters into their own hands.

“We are now experiencing a man-made global catastrophe: climate change is the biggest threat of thousands of years” David Attenborough, COP24

Want to get involved?

There are lots of ways that you can get involved. Firstly, you can sign up to our emails to hear about the latest issues and campaigns in food waste and sustainable food industry.

You can make a difference today. Our campaign to address the problem of Big Meat has just launched and you can be a part of it. We’re calling it the “cow in the room” and you can find out more and pledge your support here.

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Tesco changes rules on Kenyan green beans to cut food waste

21st Apr 16 by Feedback Team

Campaigning win as Tesco improves wasteful process of 'top and tailing' green beans

After years of public campaigning and direct challenges to its practices, Tesco has announced changes to its rules on Kenyan green beans. From now on, they will stop forcing their suppliers to “top and tail” their produce. Tesco estimates that this change will save more than 135 tonnes of food waste per year. Feedback had uncovered this wasteful practice through its investigations in Kenya in 2013, the findings of which we outlined in a report that we published in 2015. Since our inception, Feedback has publicly campaigned against cosmetic specifications for produce that outgrade outrageously high percentages of nutritious crops. Tesco was no exception, and we directly challenged them to stop their wasteful “topping and tailing” practice.

In the fight to relax cosmetic standards, green beans have been a particularly potent symbol of these standards’ causal link to food waste. Supermarkets like Tesco mandated that suppliers “top and tail” their produce — the idea being to make sure all green beans were the exact same length. Unfortunately, that’s not the way green beans grow, and topping and tailing led to an estimated 30% of the crop being lost before it even arrived in the aisles of British supermarkets.

In 2014, our public campaigning led Tesco to make a change to this system, trimming only one side of the green beans. This change alone saved one supplier whom we interviewed 1/3 of her harvest. We continued working directly with Kenyan farmers over the next two years. We found that cosmetic specifications were often used by retailers and importers as a front for cancelling orders at the last minute, that over 30% of food was being rejected at farm-level, and that exporters reported nearly 50% of produce is rejected before being exported. Our work in Peru has shown similar shocking levels of supply-chain waste driven by importers and retailers’ buying practices.

After years of publicly campaigning on this issue as well as directly challenging Tesco to make this change, we celebrate Tesco’s recent buying policy change as a victory for Kenyan farmers, British consumers, and the environment. Come this May, we host major Feeding the 5000 events in New York City and Washington D.C., where we will be asking US supermarkets to follow Tesco’s lead on this issue. The goal is for retailers to relax cosmetic standards dramatically and use farms’ whole crop. Tesco says it will begin doing this: If there is a surplus, we will work with suppliers to find an outlet – for example, by connecting our growers with our fresh and frozen suppliers for it to be used in foods such as ready meals,” said Tesco Commercial Director for Fresh Food Matt Simister. This should be the norm across all retailer-supplier relationships.

We want all retailers around the world to make simple changes like this to create a more sustainable food system. At the same time, we continue fighting for more just and less wasteful supply chains worldwide. Green beans are just a start.

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Supermarkets could soon be fined for unfair trading practises

24th Feb 15 by fb_admin

A recent proposal made by the UK government will soon give the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) the power to fine supermarkets up to 1% of their annual turnover for breach of the Groceries Supply Code of Practise.

Feedback welcomes this long-awaited decision that will give the GCA the ability to effectively challenge supermarkets on unethical business practices, such as uncompensated forecast order cancellations. However, having launched an investigation into Tesco this month, prior to her fining powers being granted, the GCA will be unable to fine the supermarket for any breaches of the code. It is of paramount importance that the GCA is given her fining powers prior to further investigations to ensure supermarkets feel the full force of this office’s powers.

The Groceries Code has the potential to be an effective legislative tool to curb systemic food waste in supermarket supply chains. The code directly addresses the issue of order cancellations, a significant cause of farm-level food waste. WRAP estimate that 5% of farm-level waste is caused by supply chain management issues such as order cancellations, although this figure is thought to be underestimated given the hesitance of farmers to speak out of these problems for fear of being de-listed, despite the large financial loss associated with being forced to waste their produce.

Apples saved on a farm from going to waste by The Gleaning Network
Apples saved on a farm from going to waste by The Gleaning Network

However, the GCA currently lacks an essential tool needed to ensure a fair deal for many farmers and other indirect suppliers – namely the remit to adjudicate on issues that arise between indirect suppliers and the supermarkets. At present the GCA is restricted to adjudicating only those issues that arise between retailers and their direct suppliers. Only a small number of farmers directly supply supermarkets.

Forecast order cancellations and last minute order adjustments leave farmers with excessive quantities of food that they can’t sell. Instead the food is left to rot or is ploughed back into the field. This is a global problem that affects farmers across the world and is an issue that Feedback are uncovering through its research and campaigns, as well as through the activity of The Gleaning Network.

Feedback are calling for the remit of the GCA and the code to be reviewed and extended to protect primary producers and other indirect suppliers of the UK’s major grocery retailers.

Feedback is not alone in this demand. The National Farmers Union (NFU) and the House of Commons Environmental Farming and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) amongst other are calling for a review of the operations of the GCA. A review is currently scheduled for 2016 but there is a need for urgent consideration of extending the remit of the GCA to include indirect suppliers, both in the UK and abroad.



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