Tag: farmers

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 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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Help us reveal the scale of Europe’s farm food waste

28th Mar 19 by Martin Bowman, Pig Idea Policy Officer and Stakeholder Coordinator

Tackling food waste on farms now has a deadline for action. Find out more about the problem of farm food waste and what you can do about it.

We have until the 4th April to stop the EU excluding the millions of tonnes of food wasted on farms from EU measurement and action. Martin Bowman, Feedback campaigner on farm food waste, explores why farms shouldn’t be sidelined – and how you can take action, in particular if you are an EU citizen outside the UK.

How much fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables which could have been eaten lie rotting in fields around the EU, or are ploughed back into the soil? According to Feedback’s research and experience working with farms, the answer can be enormous, yet so far EU governments have resisted steps to measure farm-level waste so it can be properly tackled.

WRAP recently estimated that the UK’s food waste on farms was a whopping 2.5 million tonnes of food, 20% of the food wasted in the country. But the UK, too, needs far better data if it wants to seriously tackle food waste on farms (currently it relies on informed estimates) – and whatever the UK’s future relationship with the EU, progress in Europe usually helps drives change in the UK.

Our hopes were raised last year when the EU agreed sweeping reforms to its waste legislation, with food waste policies introduced for the first time. A huge cross-European campaign called for the EU to create compulsory targets for EU countries to halve their food waste from farm to fork by 2030. Feedback worked with a coalition formed by This Is Rubbish of 67 groups from 18 EU countries and thousands of petition signatories to build momentum for EU action. But member states of the European Council blocked or watered down most of these measures. The Directive that was eventually agreed on was still a big step in the right direction – although it only called on EU countries to voluntarily commit to halve their food waste (and then, only at retail and consumer level), leaving it largely up to member states whether they take ambitious action or not. However, a significant breakthrough was the requirement on EU countries to measure and report their food waste.

Keeping it secret

Generally, whereas we know a lot about plastics and other recycling, food waste, where it occurs and what happens to it, has been shrouded in mystery. Now, from 2020 onwards, EU countries will be required to create robust data on their food waste levels in manufacturing, retail, catering and households sectors, shining a hugely useful light into the current darkness. Finally, we’ll know how much food is actually wasted, where and why.

Yet waste on farms is set to remain shrouded in darkness. The EU have just published their framework for EU countries to measure and report their food waste, and they have excluded in-field food waste. This is a disaster, given estimates put the proportion of EU food waste which occurs on farms at between 11% and 34% – between 10 and 47 million tonnes.

That’s a huge quantity of food – and the emissions, waste and soil fertility which went into producing it – which would be effectively sidelined from international action unless we convince the Commission to change track.

A problem of framing?

Again and again in the international literature on food waste, studies talk as if so-called “food loss” (a technical term for food waste at production level) is firstly only a problem in poorer countries, and secondly a problem which results solely from inadequate infrastructure like cool storage, which has technical solutions. This conveniently obscures that in rich countries there is a comparably large quantity of food waste on farms, and it is largely due to power relations between farmers and their buyers – retailers and middlemen. Feedback’s reports on UK farmers and on international farmers supplying Europe found evidence that farmers were being forced to waste food due to a mixture of cosmetic rejections of food for being the wrong size, shape or colour, unfair practices like last minute order cancellations, and fear of losing contracts in cases of undersupply leading to systemic overproduction and occasional price crashes. We’ve seen first hand through our Gleaning Network the truly stunning quantities of nutritious food that can be simply left in the field.

In short, the risks and costs of food waste are being dumped onto farmers – causing them a massive loss of money, time and resources wasting food they’ve toiled in the fields to grow. This food waste causes a huge loss of edible nutritious food – our UK study estimated that 2-4 million people could be fed their 5 a day of fruit and veg all year from the food wasted on UK farms annually. With estimates that England could run short of water in 25 years, British soil has only 100 harvests left unless degradation is reversed, and with the UN warning we have 12 years to avert disastrous levels of climate change, we need urgent action on food waste to avert catastrophe.

Time for change

Keeping Europe in the dark about farm food waste will harm EU farmers who’ll continue having the costs and risks of food waste dumped on them, prevent edible food getting to people who need it, and harm the environment. We can’t allow that to happen.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with Safe Food Advocacy Europe to ask people across Europe to respond to the Commission’s consultation, to urge them not to exclude farms from EU food waste measurement and reporting.

Please take action! (Particularly if you’re an EU resident outside the UK). Click here for our guide to completing the consultation!




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how food waste can help

3rd May 16 by Martin Bowman

Save Kitchen Waste to Feed the pigsLast week 400 pigs were found starved to death in the Netherlands as it appears their bankrupt farmer had given up on them. This is just one example of many, alarming animal welfare and farmer organisations alike.

In the first three months of 2016 alone, five Dutch pig farmers went bankrupt, almost as much as the total figure for 2015. Earlier this year, agriculture experts warned that Britain’s pig farmers are also braced for a horrendous year, as a glut of pork on the global markets sends prices plunging.

In addition to the impact on farmers themselves, animal welfare suffers too. The need to keep costs down results in terribly overcrowded and stressful conditions which in turn lead to antibiotics overuse.

The cost of feed is a major issue. In 2015, feed made up 56% of total expense for pig farmers in the UK (and as much as 65% in Ireland). At the same time, our friends at the Japan Food Ecology Centre produce nutritious and safe pig feed from food waste at half the cost of conventional feed.

What more incentive do we need to urgently create centralised industrial treatment systems to safely convert kitchen left-overs to pig feed? These systems need to be underpinned by sound legislation guaranteeing the microbiological safety of the resulting feed, and incentives to ensure the enormous environmental benefits are realised too.

At Feedback, together with our research partners of the REFRESH programme we are working hard to clarify existing guidance, so that more currently permissible surplus food and by-products replace expensive virgin feed crops like soya.

We are also furthering collaborations with scientists to confirm the exact treatment specifications to guarantee the safety of feed made from catering waste. We hope that the plight of farmers and pigs alike will encourage governments and the industry to urgently prioritise this work themselves. We’d be all too happy to join forces.

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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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