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UK supermarkets ease wonky vegetables rules

Published : Dec 7, 2012, 4:36 pm IST
Updated : Dec 7, 2012, 4:36 pm IST

British supermarkets have eased their rules to allow farmers to sell imperfectly shaped vegetables and fruits after heavy rains and bad weather badly affected the farming produce.

British supermarkets have eased their rules to allow farmers to sell imperfectly shaped vegetables and fruits after heavy rains and bad weather badly affected the farming produce. However, farmer and anti-waste activists are trying to lobby to get these rules eased permanently. Britain wastes an estimated 20 million tonnes of food and this costs the country about £12 million, according to Tristram Stuart, a British writer and campaigner against food waste. An estimated 20 to 40 per cent of fruit and vegetables are rejected even before they reach the shops as they do not match the supermarkets’ excessively strict cosmetic standards. This year, however, the supermarkets eased their rules on wonky vegetables and fruits, allowing 300,000 tonnes of produce to be sold, according to the National Farmers Union. Imperfect, weather-marked produce, including potatoes, parsnips, sprouts, swedes and apples, was accepted by the supermarkets rather than rejecting them on the grounds of appearance. Fruit and vegetables are routinely rejected on the grounds of size, shape or colour. The supermarket standards for fruits and vegetables have been ruled by the European Union specifications for many years. The European Union in July 2009 repealed rules governing the size and shape of 26 types of fruit and vegetables, apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocados, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, water melons, and witloof/chicory. However, marketing standards continued to remain in effect for 10 types of fruit and vegetables, including apples, strawberries and tomatoes. The others on the list are citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces and endives, peaches and nectarines, pears, sweet peppers, and table grapes. However, the supermarkets insist on uniform appearance so that the produce is not rejected by consumers. The era of austerity and spending cuts has made Britons aware of the colossal waste of perfectly tasty food. In fact, a large number of self-help groups are now actively trying to source wonky fruits and vegetables from farmers and passing them on to food banks rather than letting them be destroyed. “Nobody wants consumers to compromise on quality, but just because a carrot is bent, or the skin of an apple is marked, it’s perfectly usable, can offer great value and most importantly reduces wastage in the food chain,” NFU chief horticulture and potatoes adviser Hayley Campbell-Gibbons said. Calling for a relaxed approach to be carried forward in future too, Ms Campbell-Gibbons said: “Let’s hope that retailers carry on with this sensible approach to sourcing so that more of the food we produce in Britain can actually make it onto the shelf.” The NFU had earlier this year urged retailers to adopt a more realistic approach to sourcing “out of spec” fruit and vegetables in its Catalyst for Change report to prevent thousands of tonnes of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables being wasted every year and to reduce imports. NFU member and apple grower Ali Capper, from Worcestershire, has benefited from changes in specifications applied to apple colour and skin finish.