James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

October 15, 2009

Spoiled with Perfect Produce

From teddlerus on flickr

From teddleruss on flickr

Matt over at The Scientist Gardener put up an important post a couple of days ago where he related his own experiences touring a lettuce field:

The crop wasn’t in great shape, but we anticipated a decent harvest. We were shocked to learn that the field had already been harvested! Hundreds of perfectly edible heads lay all around us, left unpicked because they didn’t meet stringent appearance standards for consumer acceptance.

How big an issue imperfection is varies from crop to crop. For a crop like oranges it isn’t one at all, since there’s plenty of demand for orange juice, a use that don’t require visually attractive fruit. Now when it comes to something like cauliflower, or as Matt was talking about lettuce, there’s very little demand for anything other than fresh, whole produce. The rest just goes to waste rotting in fields.

In America it is an issue of consumer preference, and I couldn’t find any statistics on wastage to imperfect fruit. In the European Union it was until recently a matter of government policy. Twenty percent of produce was being thrown away for not meeting government size and shape criteria. This summer the restrictions were removed from 26 type of fruit and vegetables which was expected to cause price drops of up to 40% for some kinds of fresh produce. You could imagine something similar would happen in the US if we as consumers didn’t demand perfect fruits and vegetables, making healthy (if odd looking) food more affordable for everyone.

I’m not sure if there’s a call to action here. Just something to be aware of.


  1. Do you think that maybe they cut them up and put them in those pre-cut frozen food packages? Or maybe as part of animal feed? I find it hard to believe they’d throw out that much food without finding a use for it.

    Comment by Incognito Kitty — October 17, 2009 @ 12:50 am

  2. It depends on what crops we’re talking about. There a major market for processes carrots, so the total waste isn’t outrageous, but when it comes to things like lettuce or (from the NYtimes article) white sweet potatoes, there just isn’t enough demand for the foods in processed form, and its not worth the logistical costs to transport them to where they can be used as animal feed, since produce doesn’t provide many calories, is expensive to transport, expensive to harvest, and doesn’t keep well.

    Comment by James — October 17, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

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