Retailers must not be allowed to dismiss fruit and vegetables that do not meet cosmetic standards as food inflation and waste continues, a Fine Gael Senator has said.
Tim Lombard has called on the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine to discuss the issue with retailers and stakeholders such as Bord Bia and Teagasc.
Senator Lombard, vice-chair of the Committee, said: “In recent weeks we’ve seen the debate about food inflation and food prices intensify.
“We have growers of vegetables and fruit in this country who end up with up to 30% of their product never even making it to the supermarket shelves because it doesn’t meet the cosmetic standards required.
“We need a discussion on this in terms of food waste, cost to the producer and attitudes of retailers and consumers.
“We’ve seen the numbers of growers in this market decrease dramatically. In the 1980’s there were approximately 1200 vegetable growers in Ireland. Today there are less than 200 and there is an expectation that the sector will contract further this year.
“This sector is being squeezed with lower prices for their product, higher costs and waste because produce is deemed ‘too ugly’ for the supermarket shelves.
“At a time when this should be a good news story in terms of food security and offering sustainable produce, the sector is in crisis.”
Senator Lombard continued: “It’s time to begin a serious conversation around our retail policy when it comes to fresh produce and the impact that the large retail chains exert over the fresh food produce market.
“These policies have become another stick to beat the primary producer with. We need an honest conversation and transparency around costs and pricing right throughout the food chain.
“This debate needs to include all stakeholders – the retailers, Bord Bia and Teagasc and must address this appalling waste between the farm gate and the supermarket shelves because items are deemed unappealing to consumers.
“I strongly believe that education and information in relation to the food chain and food production can change consumer attitudes and reduce food waste going forward.
“Value can be achieved by both the processor and consumer by operating a more sustainable food chain from farm to fork in a way that is beneficial in the long term for all,” Senator Lombard concluded.