By Maria Caspani
LONDON (AlertNet) - Environment ministers, diplomats and U.N. delegates will feast on delicacies made from the sort of food that is rejected by European supermarkets at a dinner in Nairobi on Tuesday.
The event, organised by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and the activist group Feeding the 5000, aims to use a landmark meeting of the UNEP Governing Council in the Kenyan capital to spur global action against food waste.
“The waste of perfectly edible ‘ugly’ vegetables is endemic in our food production systems and symbolises our negligence," said Tristram Stuart, founder of Feeding the 5000. "We found one grower supplying a UK supermarket who is forced to waste up to 40 tonnes of vegetables every week, which is 40 percent of what he grows."
More than one third of global food production gets lost or wasted -- 1.3 billion tonnes of food in a world where nearly 1 billion people do not have enough to eat.
Goods such as misshapen fruit and vegetables are rejected mainly because they do not meet the rigid visual standards set by retailers or because orders placed by supermarkets are changed after the produce has been harvested, UNEP said.
This contributes to rising food prices, global warming and the waste of precious resources like water.
Growers worldwide “have singled out European supermarkets as the most unfair, the most unnecessarily fussy, and they have become very resentful of EU supermarkets…they are looking at other areas more and more,” Stuart told AlertNet.
"Anything too short gets rejected, anything too fat or too thin or twisted is rejected and anything that’s too long – they snip the end off...thirty, forty, fifty percent (of the product)."
Another problem is that many growers in developing countries do not have adequate facilities for storing and preserving their produce, so that much of it is left to rot if not shipped at once.
The rejection of so much produce is particularly galling for exporting countries like Kenya, where many people go to bed hungry, land scarcity contributes to deforestation and water resources are fragile, Stuart said.
Growers have their own ways of fighting the waste, he said. "They try to find a local market for their produce…anything they can’t sell they give to livestock farmers.
Local growers also show initiative in finding alternative uses for their crops.
"I went to see a (mango) growers’ cooperative that has built some solar-drying facilities and they slice the mangoes up and form dried fruit and they sell it to local markets and of course to the export market for dried fruit," Stuart said.
The United Kingdom alone currently wastes up to half its food supply, according to Feeding the 5000, though Stuart says there has been a positive trend in the last three years.
The fastest growing sector of the fresh produce market has been the 'ugly vegetable' area - misshapen and blemished produce - and the National Farmers Union estimates this has saved 300,000 tonnes of UK-grown vegetables from being wasted, he said.
Last year, the UK parliament passed a law giving authorities the power to fine supermarkets that are found guilty of unfair practices such as making the exporter pay the entire cost of a cancelled order.
Politicians and diplomats sitting down to dinner in Nairobi on Tuesday will be setting a good example.
Among the dishes prepared by a renowned Nairobi chef from 'rejected food' will be "Grilled Sweet Corn Tamales, Yellow Lentil Dal with Tamarind and Mangomisu – Tiramisu with a tropical twist," a note to the press revealed.
The dinner is the first in a series of dinners to mark the launch of the Think Eat Save Campaign - with events planned for Nairobi, New York and Turin.