The Consumer

Preference for ‘pretty’ produce contributes to $1-trillion annual loss

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At a recent meeting of the United Nations Environment Program (Unep) at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, hundreds of high-ranking government officials dined on food rejected by supermarkets in the United Kingdom because it was not pretty enough for their customers.

The “ugly food” dinner was meant to highlight a new campaign launched in January by Unep, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its partners like Feeding the 5,000 and Messe Dusseldorf—“Think. Eat. Save. Reduce Your Footprint.”—to encourage consumers and food retailers to significantly reduce the 1.3 billion tons of food lost or wasted each year.

The “Think. Eat. Save. Reduce Your Footprint.” campaign supports the Save Food initiative to reduce food loss and waste along the entire chain of food production and consumption.

Food loss

A Unep press statement said, “Worldwide, at least one-third of all food produced, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems, according to data released by FAO. Food loss occurs mostly at the production stages… while food waste typically takes place at the retailer and consumer end of the food-supply chain.”

A major cause of wastage is the growing demand of consumers, including Filipinos, for nice-looking produce. Many of us are equally guilty of over-buying, storing inappropriately and preparing meals that are too large (or taking too much food at parties and restaurant buffets), resulting in food being thrown away.

Wastage only contributes to the rise in food prices and has also a significant impact on the environment. It also strains the global food system, which is already recording some serious shortages, especially as the world’s population continues to grow.

Indefensible

Unep executive director Achim Steiner said, “No economic, environmental or ethical argument can be made to justify the extent of food waste and loss currently happening in the world.”

Tristram Stuart, author and founder of Feeding the 5,000, said, “The waste of perfectly edible ‘ugly’ vegetables is endemic in our food production systems and symbolizes our negligence.”

Of course, to make produce pretty and attractive to consumers means using a lot of agricultural chemicals such as pesticides, insecticides, etc. Producing it in large quantities to meet the demand means using a lot of chemical fertilizers.

Go organic

All these chemicals poison us and the environment. If we want to eat healthy, organically grown produce is the option. At the moment, however, because production is limited and the market remains small, organic produce is much more expensive. Hopefully, if farmers realize organic farming can be financially rewarding, they will revert to what are really traditional agricultural practices.

I am glad Ramon Magsaysay Jr., who is running again for a Senate seat, wants to help promote organic farming when elected. He wants more areas to be set aside for organic farming and for farmers to be taught technologies that would lower production costs, increase productivity and reduce—if not eliminate—imported farm inputs.

This would bring down the prices of organic products significantly to make them attractive to consumers.

Of course, Magsaysay needs our support in promoting organic farming not just by returning him to the Senate but also by changing our consumption habits. “Ugly” produce is as edible, most likely safer, too, than their pretty counterparts.

If you want to find out how else you can reduce food wastage and help yourself and the planet, visit www.thinkeatsave.org.

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