July 14, 2008

Junk Food.. But Not As You Know It


WITH living costs on the rise, consumers have been accused of adding to their financial difficulties by wasting a mountain of food.

But an investigation by the Evening News has found that leading supermarkets are just as guilty when it comes to throwing away perfectly good food.

The Evening News spent a night touring the Capital's supermarkets to find out just how much food is wasted.

We copied the night-time raids carried out by members of the city's "freeganism" movement, who pride themselves on living off the food that others throw away.

We visited 12 stores in total and found that the majority of stores are so keen to keep people out of their skips that they keep their refuse behind lock and key in specially-constructed cages.

However, two well-known city supermarkets had skips that were easily accessible to the rear of their stores.

Both skips were full of refuse, from which we salvaged a number of items of food still good to eat.

Mum-of-two Claire Finney, 35, an IT recruitment specialist from west Edinburgh, is a recent convert to freeganism.

She said: "I started less than a year ago and for the first few weeks I logged what I took.

"In the first month alone I collected over GBP 1000 worth of food. It's not like I need to go raking through bins to eat, but with the money I save I do nice things like taking the kids out."

Many mums would be horrified to hear that Claire feeds her children from bins, but as our own investigation has shown, the food obtained is often perfectly edible.

She added: "Less than 30 years ago many households didn't even have a fridge, and yet they would think nothing of using food that was a few days old.

"This aside, much of today's food is packaged to death.

"You have a piece of fruit on a plastic tray in a plastic bag that's placed inside a shopping bag and kept unrefrigerated for over an hour before we get it home.

"The best judge of whether food is edible or not is your eyes and your nose. Best-before dates tend to be arbitrary and promote waste."

Between 18 and 20 million tonnes of food is thought to be wasted in the UK every year.

Of this, around 6.7 million tonnes of food waste comes from our homes and 1.6 million tonnes is wasted by supermarkets.

The News retrieved half a dozen bin bags with over GBP 150 worth of edible food from just two stores, a mere fraction of the food discarded in the city that evening.

Most of the items were either well in date or just slightly past the supermarkets' recommended best-before date.

Among the haul were five packs of expensive olives, priced at GBP 3.49-a-dozen, five yoghurt multipacks, two 500ml cartons of fresh soup and three cartons of Pringles that still had between three days and three months before being out of date. Other items included fresh fruit and vegetables that had been consigned to the skip because they were not fresh enough for the super- markets' standards.

Of the eight supermarket chains contacted by the Evening News, only Somerfield would reveal how much food was wasted.

The company admitted that in 2006/07 it had consigned 36,000 tonnes of food to landfill and a spokeswoman said the firm was aiming to reduce this by 10,000 tonnes.

She said: "We are not in the business of throwing away food, or profit for that matter. It is good business practice to maximise sales and to keep wastage to a minimum.

"However, the area of food safety and use-by dates is subject to legislation which serves the interest of consumers.

"There will always be occasions where some products have to be disposed of for practical and food safety reasons."

All of the supermarkets pointed out that wasting food was not profitable and therefore not in their interests.

Many wanted to highlight the efforts they were making to reduce waste. Changes made over the last 18 months have included marking down products earlier to ensure that they are sold within their use- by dates.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Gordon Brown threw the spotlight on food waste after a government report said that Britons are throwing away groceries worth more than GBP 1 billion a year.

Most of the supermarkets have pledged their support to the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign, helping customers to reduce food waste by placing prominent best-before and use-by dates on products.

However, supermarket giant Tesco went further by insisting that food waste was not a problem among its 1200 stores.

A spokesman said: "We agree completely with Gordon Brown that everybody should be doing their bit to reduce food waste and at Tesco we've been working hard for years to do just that.

"We have very effective stock control methods in place and therefore create only a small amount of waste.

"We also work closely with the charity Fareshare, to prevent anything that can be used from being wasted."

Fareshare is one organisation that is making use of the food that supermarkets would otherwise throw away by redistributing it to the needy.

In the Lothians, the charity works in partnership with the Edinburgh Cyrenians Good Food Programme which receives food from all over Scotland in its Leith-based warehouse.

Around 20 drivers and 70 volunteers help deliver between eight and nine tonnes of surplus food to 40 homelessness projects in the Lothians.

Programme manager Carol-Anne Alcorn said: "There are a high percentage of people who are facing the challenges of homelessness.

"These people also suffer from a depletion of their immune systems because of a low intake of fresh fruit and veg and this food gives them so much more in terms of nutrition."

She added: "We work with people who have a sound policy on food and food waste and can see the advantages of that food not going into landfill."

See e-pages for table of what the Evening News found in supermarket bins http://epages.the.loop/2008/07/12/EN1.pdf

(c) 2008 Evening News; Edinburgh (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.