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We Are Not Converting More Land To Food Production



The chief of Tesco tells us that we really must do something about all this food waste. Well, maybe we should and maybe we shouldn’t. In order to decide upon whether – and if so what – we need to understand the facts of what is happening. The opening line from Dave Lewis here not being a good start:

As a society, we are converting more and more land to food production, with massive consequences for wildlife, water and forests.

That’s a factual statement that can be checked. So, is it true?

No, it is not true. Get rid of socialist idiocy, return to capitalist – kulak even – farming and we use substantially less land to feed ourselves. Interesting and not exactly an argument in favour of government intervention in farming.

Yet one third of all food produced is thrown away

That is true and yet there’s a subtlety that needs to be understood. It’s actually up to some 50% in those parts of the world that don’t have supermarkets. Because, when examined properly, a supermarket is really a logistics chain which gets food to humans to eat before it rots. In the absence of the chain much food rots before it is eaten.

Food waste is thus an argument in favour of Tesco – or its equivalent – expanding across India and Africa, the two places where this problem is most notable.

Recognising the scale of the problem, the United Nations included a food loss and waste reduction target in their suite of Sustainable Development Goals, approved five years ago this week. This target, SDG 12.3, calls on the world to halve per capita food waste by 2030. Once this target was set, a group of leaders asked how we could help motivate action to achieve it and Champions 12.3 was formed – a coalition of more than 30 senior leaders from governments, businesses, international organisations, research institutions, and civil society, dedicated to accelerating progress towards SDG 12.3

We are now only 10 years away from the 2030 deadline. In order to meet it, more must be done and with more urgency than ever before. That’s why Champions 12.3 is calling for every country and company involved in the food supply chain to commit to SDG 12.3. To quantify and report publicly on their food loss and waste. And, based on this, to take action. We call this the target, measure, act approach and we urge more governments and companies to adopt it as their own.

That’s not the solution, no.

Tesco was the first UK retailer to publish food waste data back in 2013 because we know that what gets measured, gets done. Since then we have started reporting food waste data for every one of the markets we operate in, cut 45,000 tonnes of food waste from our global operations and more than halved food waste in central Europe.

Just as importantly, our suppliers are helping us to cut waste from farm to fork. Seventy-one of our branded and own-label suppliers, including 11 of the world’s largest brands, are publishing food waste data alongside us. That includes 15 global suppliers who are reporting for their packhouses for the first time this year and have committed to extend their reporting to their farm operations next year. Collectively, they have cut more than 155,000 tonnes of waste from their operations in three years.

Nor is that. That’s all trivia. Nonsense in fact.

What is wasted in supermarket supply chains just isn’t the problem at all. Supermarkets – those logistics chains – are the solution.

The global volume of food wastage is estimated at 1.6 billion tonnes of “primary product equivalents.” Total food wastage for the edible part of this amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes.

Pissing about with 45,000 tonnes at Tesco is missing the point.

Developing countries suffer more food losses during agricultural production, while in middle- and high-income regions, food waste at the retail and consumer level tends to be higher.

Getting Tesco into developing countries is what will work.

Yet the CEO of Tesco spends his time micturating over trivia rather than expanding his own business to solve the problem? Sell Tesco, been taken over by idiots.



  1. I seem to recall that Tesco tried to break into India via a local partnership, only to crash and burn as the small farmer/small shopkeeper lobby managed to persuade the Indian government to throw up enough barriers to kill the project.

    Local producers 1 Local consumers 0

  2. It is possible to convert more and more land to food production while reducing the amount of land used for food production.
    Those green patches in the desert of UAE are land converted to food production, or managed forest converted to palm oil. If those mean a greater quantity of land in Europe taken out of food production and turned over to hunting, or gardens or just whatever takes the fancy of the bio-diversifiers, then good.
    So what Lewis said could be right, but I doubt he meant it that way.

  3. Matt Ridley, as sane a commentator as one is likely to find, says that agricultural land use is 65% of what it was 50 or so years ago, whilst food production has doubled. This trend is obvious in India, where previously farmed land is returning to jungle at quite an impressive rate. In Europe we have the odd phenomena of farmers being paid not to farm. Tescos may be a superb food retailer (excepting in the USA), but policy makers they should never be. Just as Jamie Oliver, who has recently been idiotically opining against free trade, should stick to cooking, Tescos should stick to stacking shelves.

  4. “The chief of Tesco tells us that we really must do something about all this food waste”

    Really? What’s his agenda? We have a branch of Iceland here & because it’s in forrin’ & wanting to attract Brit customers, it’s got a butchery counter & carries a good range of fresh veg. Te managers a friend of mine & I’ve asked her about how much food waste they produce. About a black rubbish bag full a week, she reckons. Anything approaching it’s sell by date gets marked down & if that doesn’t sell it the staff get further discounts. What gets thrown out is mostly stuff with badly damaged packaging.
    It’s hard to see why Tesco’s doing any worse. If they’re producing a lot of food waste it’d have to go in a skips by the store. Where are they they all?
    My suspicion is the Tesco bloke is talking up a problem didn’t exist so he can boast how well they’ve solved it
    And you’re right about non-supermarket food chains. I used to live near Camden’s Inverness Street Market. Good dumper diving there when the markets shutting. They chucked out lorry loads.

  5. It’s the same problem as the idiots not using plastic straws while vast mountains of plastic waste are sent into the ocean by fishing operations and industrial activities in under developed regions of the world. So stir your drink with a paper straw for humanity.

  6. Tesco is in the supermarket business, they’re professionals. They are in battle daily with a wide range of competitors to provide food better & cheaper. If they don’t do it well they go broke.

    So, if they’re “wasting” anything it’s because that bit is too expensive to save. Seriously, one of the great benefits of supermarkets is that they work the supply chain & logistics relentlessly to squeeze more efficiency out of the process. So, if they’re tossing out X pounds of lettuce every year (worth $Y) it’s because it would cost more then $Y to save it.

    Hilariously, a few months back we had people campaigning to get them to use less plastic packaging. Guess why they wrap veggies in plastic – to make them last longer & reduce the amount they have to throw away.

    For Tesco, like other businesses, this is just one more “campaign” they have to pretend to care about, hoping it doesn’t get serious enough that they have to do anything really costly.


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expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

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