Coming soon: the uglification of the fresh produce department? - The Packer

Coming soon: the uglification of the fresh produce department?

06/16/2011 07:08:00 AM
Tom Karst


A report from Europe from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service noted this about the FAO report:

The EU recently repealed a raft of its own fruit and vegetable marketing standards, allowing unconventionally shaped carrots and cucumbers to come back onto the market. The report comes as the world grapples with the question of how to feed a global population which is likely to hit 9 billion by 2050, without exacerbating climate change and environmental degradation through agricultural intensification. The FAO has predicted that food production will need to rise some 70 percent on current levels. Following publication of the report, EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos warned that subsidizing unsustainable commercial or consumer behavior would have no room in the next CAP.


More from the FAO report:

High ‘appearance quality standards’ from supermarkets for fresh products lead to food waste. Some produce is rejected by supermarkets at the farm gate due to rigorous quality standards concerning weight, size, shape and appearance of crops. Therefore, large portions of crops never leave the farms. Even though some rejected crops are used as animal feed, the quality standards might divert food originally aimed for human consumption to other uses (Stuart, 2009).

Prevention: Consumer surveys by supermarkets. Supermarkets seem convinced that consumers will not buy food which has the ‘wrong’ weight, size or appearance. Surveys do however show that consumers are willing to buy heterogeneous produce as long as the taste is not affected (Stuart, 2009). Consumers have the power to influence the quality standards. This could be done by questioning them and offering them a broader quality range of products in the retail stores.


We have seen similar loosening of fruit and vegetable marketing order quality requirements in the U.S., particularly in short crop years. Looking at the example of carrots, is Asda (or all retailers) to blame for the fact that 30% of the carrots are graded out? When it comes to ethical behavior, is it justifiable for retailers to insist on appearance standards that have nothing to do with nutrition or taste? What other markets can be developed for off-grade produce?

I tend to think that the invisible hand of the market is determining what fresh produce can be sold.  There is no assurance that delivering more ugly fruits and vegetables to the retail fresh produce department would result in any less waste. In fact, the waste could be even greater, compounded by the cost of transport incurred.

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Delano,ca  |  June, 16, 2011 at 10:35 PM

Go to Superstition Ranch Market. The entire business model is selling out of grade produce.

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