Tag: farming

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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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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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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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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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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