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Economic Myths: “We all hate wasting food”

Thursday, February 23, 2017 6:28
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Quite clearly we don’t, or we wouldn’t do it, but people keep bringing up the topic, so here goes…

For example, they have posters up at my local Tesco saying Love Food Hate Waste. They had a segment on a recent Food Unwrapped programme (which are very interesting programmes on the whole) where one of them was interviewing a farmer who employs people to sort carrots for the supermarkets. About a third of them are not ‘supermarket quality’ i.e. long, straight and easy to peel and these are chucked on a huge pile and sold for animal feed etc.

The presenter then got on his Righteous Horse, bagged up some of the odd-shaped ones and got permission to sell them in a supermarket for half the price of the long, straight ones. “They taste just as good as the long straight ones”, he explained breathlessly to a few Righteous Shoppers who bought them.

1. Well of course they taste the same, that’s not the issue here – they just aren’t as easy to peel and chop. Peeling and chopping carrots is a chore and you want to get it done as quick as poss, so people who value their own time are quite happy to pay double for fairly uniform, long, straight ones.

2. It’s like pre-washed lettuce. If we were given bags of unsorted carrots, assuming that people value their own time, it would make economic sense to buy more than you need, peel and chop the easy ones and chuck the rest in the compost. There is simply no point faffing about for ten minutes rescuing ten pence worth of carrots.

3. Farmers are businesses like anybody else, and of course there are unwanted by-products. They are quite happy to throw away all the carrot leaves, the odd-shaped carrots are just a by-product, the same as the leaves.

4. In theory, farmers could reduce their carrot production by one-third, see a corresponding fall in income and use the spare land for growing something else. We have to assume that markets have sorted that out and that growing more carrots (even if a third end up being sold for pennies) gives them the most extra income compared to growing more of something else. So in economic terms, this is not waste – they are maximising the value of their output.


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