Bernard Ginns: This mountain of waste provides some food for thought

IF you want a statistic that sums up the gross inequality that exists in the world, consider the simple, stark and shocking claim that up to 50 per cent of all food produced never reaches the human stomach.

This assertion, made by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers at the start of the year, speaks for itself. Think about it over Christmas. And think of what you can do to help.

This independent engineering society, which has more than 5,000 members in Yorkshire, blamed inadequate infrastructure and storage facilities, overly strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one-free offers and consumers demanding cosmetically perfect food.

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Dr Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at IMechE, said: “This is food that could be used to feed the world’s growing population – as well as those in hunger today.

“It is also an unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food.”

This is relevant to Yorkshire: the region is home to many of the UK’s main food manufacturers as well as two of the Big Four supermarket giants, Asda and Morrisons.

IMechE’s report said that as much as 30 per cent of UK vegetable crops are not harvested due to exacting standards based on physical appearance, while up to half of the food bought in Europe and the USA is thrown away by the consumer.

The report claimed that about 550bn cubic metres of water is wasted globally in growing crops that never reach the consumer.

It warned that the demand for water in food production could reach 10-13 trillion cubic metres a year by 2050, which could lead to more dangerous water shortages around the world.

We are wasting between 1.2bn to 2bn tonnes of food every year. I hope you get the message.

Yesterday it was revealed that another crucial tipping point has been reached in the balance of poverty in Great Britain.

According to the York-based Joseph Rowntree Foundation, there are more working families living in poverty in the UK than non-working ones. It is the first time this has happened.

Some 6.7m working families are living below the poverty line – up 500,000 on the same time last year – compared to the 6.3m combined retired and out-of-work families, said the foundation. They have been hit by an unprecedented fall in living standards, with average incomes falling by an average of eight per cent since 2008.

Julia Unwin, chief executive at JRT, said hard work is not working. She added: “While a recovery may be gathering momentum in the statistics and official forecasts, for those at the bottom, improving pay and prospects remain a mirage. Recent economic improvements do not outweigh the damage inflicted during the downturn to the incomes of the poorest people across the country.”

I was pleased to report on the launch in Goldthorpe of Britain’s first ‘social supermarket’ this week and was even more pleased to see that Yorkshire’s supermarkets groups Asda and Morrisons are supporting it.

This pioneering business model has the potential to help alleviate the two pressing social problems outlined in this column.

Community Shop will offer affordable food products to people living in a specific postcode and in receipt of welfare support. They will be eligible for discounts of up to 70 per cent on surplus goods.

Community Shop is a subsidiary of Company Shop, the UK’s largest commercial redistributor of surplus food and goods. Surpluses are created in the supply chain by forecasting errors, seasonal promotions and packaging faults, said a spokesman for the business.

Shoppers will not only get access to cheaper food, but will also be offered programmes of tailored support, including debt advice, cookery skills, home budgeting and CV writing to provide members with “a route back to mainstream shopping”, added the spokesman.

Sarah Dunwell, the former chief executive of Leeds-based social enterprise Create, is leading the pilot project, which will expand to other sites if successful.

She said: “With many families facing tough times in Barnsley, Company Shop wanted to do more to match surplus stock with people who really need it.

“If we all work together we can make sure that surplus food delivers lasting social good.”

Waste not, want not.