Inglorious food

The French Super Market Bon Marche has a new campaign going to sell fruit and veg that doesn’t meet the usual aesthetic qualities people expect from super markets. This is to help combat food waste, and allows them to sell the food 30% cheaper (and I’m sure is absolutely not a marketing gimmick). There’s even the required YouTube video about how successful this campaign has been going around:

One interesting thing from the video other than that people will quite happily buy the inglorious food is that , which is obviously going well as first I’ve heard about it. The European Commission tells us that:

“About 90 million tonnes of food is wasted annually in Europe – agricultural food waste and fish discards not included.

About a third of the food for human consumption is wasted globally – around 1.3 billion tons per year, according to FAO;

Food waste in industrialized countries is as high as in developing countries:

—In developing countries, over 40% of food losses happen after harvest and during processing;
—In industrialised countries, over 40% occurs at retail and consumer level.

Food is wasted throughout the whole food chain – from farmers to consumers – and for various reasons.”

So what could those “various reasons” possibly be (I’ll give you a hint Straight Bananas). Why yes it’s our friends in the European Commission (with a bit of help from hte U.N.) and EU Regulation 543/2011. Now at first glance one might think that ensuring that produce is “sound, fair and of marketable quality” quite reasonable, but as ever with the EU it’s a bit gold plated. From the UK Government guidelines for complying with this regulation:

“These products covered by the specifi c marketing standards need to be graded according to their quality.
There are two commonly used quality classes: Class I and Class II. There is also an Extra Class for all specific marketing standard products, except for lettuces. These three classes can be summarised as:

  • Extra Class:
    Superior quality produce, that is uniformly regular in shape and appearance, only allowing some very slight superficial defects.
  • Class I: Good quality produce, allowing for minor defects such as areas of slight skin defects or slight shape defects.
  • Class II: Reasonably good quality produce, which may show one or more defects (depending on the product), such as slight bruising, damage or colour defects

If it doesn’t fall into one of those categories you can only sell it for “home processing”. So in Class II you’re allowed some defects but that still excludes a lot of perfectly good food. Here’s an example:
Carrots must not be forked and free of secondary roots. Oh and depending how you read it naturally purple carrots are prohibited entirely.
The regulations for
apples are even sillier given some heritage varieties (though no doubt there are exemptions).

It’s a reasonable accusation that the super markets have been over cautious and have sold us an image of perfect food. However given the volume of regulation on all the different fruit and veg they sell and the penalties for non-conformance you can understand why they might be a bit cautious. Even allowing for that though, if the EU wants to reduce food they might look at actually allowing shops to sell food that doesn’t comply to some committee produced ideal.

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