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Looks don't matter: UN calls for alternative use of ‘ugly’ produce

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 25-Feb-2013

It's what's on the inside that counts...
It's what's on the inside that counts...

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya has launched a new campaign to highlight the implications of European food waste – and has called for new ways to process and market ‘ugly’ produce.

As part of the “Think.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint” initiative, the programme sourced 1,600 kilograms of fruit and vegetables from Kenyan producers that had been rejected by the export market and served a zero-waste reception for a UNEP Governing Council meeting last week, and donated surplus to local charities.

"No economic, environmental or ethical argument can be made to justify the extent of food waste and loss currently happening in the world, and at UNEP we practice what we preach," said UN under-secretary-general and UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.

Food waste writer and campaigner Tristram Stuart said supermarket rejection of produce for cosmetic reasons was prompting resentment among Kenyan farmers, some of whom have to bear the cost of up to 40% of their harvest being wasted. Although some of it is able to be resold on the local Kenyan market, or used as livestock feed, the quantity of rejected food is so great that much of it is left to rot.

The UK is the intended destination for most of Kenya’s rejected produce, but the UNEP claims that the practice is on the rise in many developed nations, and increasingly in the developing world too.

"The waste of perfectly edible 'ugly' vegetables is endemic in our food production systems and symbolises our negligence,” Stuart said. "But it is also a huge opportunity: By persuading supermarkets to change their standards, and by developing processing and other ways of marketing this produce, we can help to increase on-farm incomes and food availability where it is needed most.”

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, at least a third of the world’s food is lost or wasted at some point on the supply chain. It says that in the developed world, the food manufacturing and retail sectors are largely to blame for wastage, due to inefficient practices, confusion over date labels and high standards for appearance.

On a consumer level, Europeans, North Americans and Australasians waste 95 kg to 115 kg of food per person each year due to over-buying, preparing too much food, and inappropriate storage.

By contrast, in the developing world 95% of food loss and waste happens unintentionally at early stages of harvesting and production, the FAO says. This is due to poor infrastructure, storage, packaging and marketing systems.

Consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia throw away 6 kg to 11 kg of food each year.

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