One of the comments I read about the “Dirty Dozen” list is the fact that consumers are to blame for the use of pesticides, because it is we shoppers who insist on perfect produce. That is a simplistic thought about how chemicals are used to prevent food loss, but the issue of retail appearance standards and their effect on food waste is drawing attention.
A recent Food and Agriculture Organization report, called Global Food Losses and Food Waste, was commissioned by FAO from the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (SIK).
From the report:
In the fruits and vegetables commodity group (Figure 6), losses in agricultural production dominate for all three industrialized regions, mostly due to postharvest fruit and vegetable grading caused by quality standards set by retailers.
Waste at the end of the food supply chain is also substantial in all three regions, with 15-30% of purchases by mass discarded by consumers. In developing regions losses in agricultural production dominate total losses throughout the food supply chain.
Losses during postharvest and distribution stages are also severe, which can be explained by deterioration of perishable crops in the warm and humid climate of many developing countries as well as by seasonality that leads to unsalable gluts.
A case study from the report:
Carrot quality standards, by the supermarket chain Asda
As research for the book ‘Waste – understanding the global food scandal’ (2009), Tristram Stuart visited several British farms in order to understand how quality standards affect the level of food waste. Among others, Stuart visited M.H. Poskitt Carrots in Yorkshire, a major supplier to the supermarket chain Asda. At the farm, the author was shown large quantities of out-graded carrots, which, having a slight bend, were sent off as animal feed.
In the packing house, all carrots passed through photographic sensor machines, searching for aesthetic defects. Carrots that were not bright orange, had a blend or blemish or were broken were swept off into a livestock feed container. As staff at the farm put it: “Asda insist that all carrots should be straight, so customers can peel the full length in one easy stroke” (Stuart, 2009). In total, 25-30% of all carrots handled by M.H. Poskitt Carrots were out-graded. About half of these were rejected due to physical or aesthetic defects, such as being the wrong shape or size; being broken or having a cleft or a blemish.