Australians wasting US$1.12B worth of fruit and veg each year - FreshFruitPortal.com

Australians wasting US$1.12B worth of fruit and veg each year

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Australians wasting US$1.12B worth of fruit and veg each year

Whilst myriad other nations face famine, Australians are dumping AUD$1.1 billion (US$1.12 billion) worth of fruit and vegetables in landfill each year, according to The Australian Institute's ‘What a Waste’ report. At www.freshfruitportal.com we speak with farmers and academics about their take on the provocative statistic.

Photo: Carbon Credit Exchange

The report highlights that food waste is a significant issue for the Australian community due to its environmental effects.

"The disposal of millions of tonnes of food waste imposes significant costs on the community through waste collection, waste disposal and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with rotting food," the report said.

One of the most alarming statistics in the report was that between 20-40% of Australian fruit and vegetable waste occurs before even reaching retail outlets.

This data points to serious wastage levels in the Southern Hemisphere country, and raises the question, have Australian consumers developed supermarket snootiness?

Beauty on the.....outside

Professor Ray Collins from The University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, believes supermarkets cannot be blamed for promoting their constant supply of impeccable fruit, which is a response to the increasing value shoppers are placing on aesthetically-pleasing produce.

"You put more perfect fruit out, you get more demand for it, and so there’s a belief that that’s what you need to do, and that signal flows back down the chain, all the way to the producer," he tells www.freshfruitportal.com.

Collins highlights the hypocrisy or double standard that consumer demand displays.

"We long ago learned that the outside skin of a banana can be black and have marks on it, and the inside is perfect," he says.

"Most of the bananas we buy actually have a lot of cosmetic blemish, and we don’t have an expectation they’ll be perfect (looking)."

He stresses that the taste and nutritional value of fresh food, with minor cosmetic blemishes, is completely unaffected.

Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm minimizes its wastage through value-adding products

"In low levels of blemish there is absolutely no correlation."

Collins emphasizes that all fruits can vary in their appearance, even those that have been grown on the same tree.

"You can’t biologically produce perfect fruit, that’s just a fact of nature - what you harvest off the tree is a wide range of sizes, shapes, colors, blemish levels, and you just sort it out into those markets which want those kinds of fruit."

He says waste is certainly a part of farming, with some of the produce dropping to the ground and never even making it to the packing sheds. On-farm wastage can be significant, yet is generally returned back into the soil, and composted one way or another.

"It is waste, but it does provide some benefit back to where it came from," says Collins.

He says some industries, such as mango and orange growers, manage their waste more effectively than others, due to the simple fact their seconds are more apt for juicing or drying, yet these methods are not always economically viable for the farmer.

Despite his concern for the industry, Collins is certainly an optimist, believing that education and awareness could create a change in consumer behavior.

"If consumers were made more aware of the waste and the cost of that wastage, and the fact that their choice of a perfect apple, over something with a minor blemish, is what’s partially responsible for that waste; I think consumers are smart people and they would respond," he says.

Reducing waste at the farmer level

Meanwhile the farmers at Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm, located near Melbourne, certainly understand the importance of minimizing waste by using all the produce that supermarkets reject.

The farm grows a wide variety of berries and also produces wines, sorbets, ice cream, jams, syrups and freeze-dried produce.

Sunny Ridge director Mick Gallace, believes these products are an economically beneficial way to reduce harvest waste almost entirely.

"In terms of produce, we waste very little - we have a value-adding business [which means] we make wine, we make jam, ice-cream and all those things out of the grade that doesn’t make it into the first grade," he says.

Gallace explains that the company's produce is graded as firsts, seconds or thirds, with each category being utilized in some way. Yet despite its sustainable waste practices, Sunny Ridge only sells its first grade to retailers as they are the most perfect in terms of appearance.

It seems the fixation consumers have with flawless fruit, coupled with the economic challenges associated with value adding avenues, is forcing Australian farmers to dump far too much quality produce.

Perhaps consumers need to be more aware, that beauty really is only skin-deep.

Related story: Brazil loses nearly a third of its fruit to simple errors

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