Across the channel in France by a unanimous vote all supermarkets will be ordered to hand over unsold food to charities if fit for human consumption and for animal feed if not. A shocking compassion to the UK where our major supermarkets call the police and push court cases against people who take food out of supermarket rubbish bins.
The French law prevents supermarkets from deliberately spoiling food by, for example pouring bleach over it and carries fines and possible prison sentances for supermarket managers who refuse to comply.
Here in the UK our boys and girls in blue (or these days high viz or special forces getups) will roll up to arrest people who are going through bins looking for food to eat and the same politicians who, last year laughed in parliament when they were told about hungry people fighting each other for food are now back in their jobs for another five years.
In order to prevent the food being taken many supermarkets keep the bins behind high walls, the food is unsellable because it’s sell by date is up but the food will generally remain edible for days though it is thrown away as soon as the sell by expires.
Some people go ‘Binning’ as a form of civil action or protest against supermarket waste, others do so because it’s the only way to feed themselves and their families. People going hungry are issued with a maximum of three vouchers per person with each covering three days of food though as that is three meals a day a single voucher can cover a week or more if it is rationed out.
Tesco’s on its own threw away an estimated 60,000 tonnes of food last year because the sell by date had been reached, food that was still edible and would have been for days after it was binned. Consider that number, 60,000 tonnes.
A huge amount and just from a single supermarket.
Not counting packaging and allowing for life’s little extras a person on a restricted budget eats approx 12 kilos of actual food a month and probably another 8 kilos in extras such as drinks. Add in that unhealthy eating that poor people have no choice but to do and you are looking at 240 kilos per person per year. People with money eat and throw away more, I'm talking people who are counting the pennys here.
Of course small children eat less but this is countered by teenagers eating like horses so it probably balances out.
This means that Tesco’s on its own threw out enough edible food last year to feed 240,000 people for the entire year. Or the equivalent of almost ten million food vouchers.
That’s TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY THOUSAND PEOPLE !
And that’s just Tesco’s, who call the police to stop hungry people from raiding its rubbish bins. Once you include the rest of the supermarkets and the number goes past a million people. Without counting smaller chains and local shops, or the fact that as much as a third of the food grown never even reaches the shops because its not up to scratch presentation wise. Tomatoes not round enough or not bright red, bananas not curved or too curved etc. Between the EU and the supermarkets farmers grow hundreds of thousands of tonnes of perfectly good food that is not eaten because it doesn’t fit the perfect marketing image.
At the same time that this is going on we have millions of people here in the UK in poverty, facing eat or heat decisions, going hungry to make sure their children have food. Walking cap in hand to a charity to ask for food to keep them going for a while until they can get some money, turn to crime or commit suicide. With sanctions of benefits now jumping to three months so quickly survival for those without friends or family to hand becomes imposible.
The image of people going hungry while thousands of tonnes of food is dumped should be shocking, but in Dickensian Britain and in Cameron’s Britain it is commonplace, the new normal, same as the old normal.
Britain is now rated as the fifth or sixth richest country on the planet, I don’t care if its five or six, either place is an indication of a small nation that is extremely wealthy and yet we are constantly told that the poor must be made to suffer to help the economy, never mind that the economic policies of Cameron and Co seem to be making things worse and that austerity is not just unnecessarily cruel but actually harmful to economic recovery. Trickle down is the policy of choice but what trickle down to the poor isn’t jobs or money and though it may seem to be raining it’s not water.
Here’s the thing. Supermarkets throw the food away, so they have already written off the value, it’s now rubbish. In fact it costs them to have the rubbish taken away. By allowing food banks and charities to collect that food it can be used to feed people in need and the supermarkets save some money on rubbish storage and collections.
So why don’t they?
We have been told by prominent Tories that poor people go to food banks because they don’t know how to cook or that food bank use is up simply because there are more food banks. We have been told that people who use food banks are feckless scroungers who spend their money of drink and cigarettes then go to the food banks to eat. We have been told that the system works and that only a few fall through the cracks, the Tory definition of ‘FEW’ is clearly different to mine though.
We also hear that given the food away will distort the food market since people will go to the charities rather than buying it. That such activity actually encourages people to resort to charities.
COMPLETE AND UTTER BOLLOCKS !
The vast majority of people who go to a food bank have no choice, by going cap in hand and asking for food they are throwing away what little dignity and self respect they may have left because they have reached the point where they can no longer feed themselves of their children. The ultimate failure for a parent, being unable to provide the food your children need.
There are a few people who play the system and use it for free food when they don’t need it but they are a tiny number compared to the vast host who have a genuine need for help in our modern society as it rushes back to Victorian levels of inequality and poverty.
Last year Oxfam, the Trusell Trust and Church Action on Poverty released a report covering the activities of all three groups. At the same time that the Trust was talking of a million vouchers being accepted these three groups between them estimated that they had given out 20,247,042 meals worth of food.
A meal voucher covers three meals for three days so these three groups between them provided the equivalent of 2,249,671 food vouchers. Twice the number quoted by Trusell alone, a number that was attacked by the Tory propaganda tools as being a misrepresentation at best and deliberate attempts to discredit the Tories at worst. Not that anyone nees to lie to discredit the Tories, five years has given us plenty of truth to do that with.
But still, 20,247,042 meals. 2,249,671 vouchers worth. At the lowest number of people presuming that every single person was issued with the maximum of three vouchers that is over 700,000 people.
How much human suffering does that represent, how many families or individuals does this represent going hungry because they have used their maximum number of vouchers or can’t get any vouchers because they aren’t in the system. HOW MUCH HUMAN SUFFERING?
Even the limit of three vouchers is cruel at a time when the DWP sanctions for three months, six months or a year for crimes that are frankly unbelievable to anyone with a shred of consideration, compassion and humanity.
The full report from last year is here.
The French have showed us the way, but we can’t expect Cameron and May and IDS and the rest of them to follow, because that would require that they look down from focusing on their warped economic policies and cruel austerity long enough to notice people suffering under their rule.
Millions suffering and we sit here waiting to find out just how much worse it will become now that Cameron has his mandate to rule and push us into a police state.
But while they will do nothing perhaps we can, us, the little people. There are some decent men and women in Parliament, even some decent people in the Tory party. There could be some decent people in the senior management of the big supermarkets (probably not) but we will never know if we don’t try.
Email, text or speak to your MP, go to online action groups such as 38 degrees and sign up for a petition. Individually we have no voice, together we may be heard.
Lets force UK supermarkets to stop destroying food and instead give it to the charities that are the last line of defence for so many people who have been crushed by Tory austerity and cruelty.
Put your name to this campaign, it could make the difference.
Don’t wait for the Tories to do the right thing, it will never happen.
While France Makes it Law to Give Unwanted Food to Charities, in Britain the Government Wants Us to Hate the Poor and the Hungry.