A third of fruit and veg ‘too ugly to sell’

More than one third of farmed fruit and vegetables never reach supermarket shelves because such produce is misshapen or the wrong size, according to research carried out by the University of Edinburgh.

In a Europe-wide study, it was found that more than 50 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables grown across the continent are discarded each year.

This is largely because they do not meet supermarkets’ and consumers’ standards of how they should look, the study showed.

The climate change impact of growing the wasted food – some of which may be ploughed back into fields, used in animal feed or otherwise reused – is equivalent to the carbon emissions of almost 400,000 cars, researchers discovered.

Researchers at the Scottish university examined details of food loss and waste within the European Economic Area.

Published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, the project investigated how much food is discarded each year before it reaches the point of being sold.

They found that strict Government regulations, supermarkets’ high standards and consumers’ expectations of how fruit and vegetables should look in combination led to the loss of more than one third of produce before the point of sale.

Farmers who are contracted to supermarkets typically grow more food than they are obliged to supply, to allow for a proportion that will not be deemed fit to sell.

Scientists suggest that greater awareness among consumers, and a movement towards shopping sustainably, could encourage the sale of more “ugly” vegetables.

They also suggest a greater use of misshapen produce, for example in chopped, processed or picked goods, or for sale at a discount to charities.