Remember the Bernard Matthews scandal of 2007 and how imported turkey meat may have brought HN51 into the UK? And the horsemeat burgers of 2013 – which was more likely to give you the trots etc? Well it seems Farming Minister George Eustice has beaten his former DEFRA stablemate Owen Paterson to the post in the debate on food labelling.
Despite Owen’s pledge to impose mandatory ‘country of origin’ labelling it now looks likely that new EU rules in 2015 will be significantly watered-down. The UK initially proposed all meat foodstuffs – unprocessed and processed – should be labelled with their country of origin. But now, after sustained lobbying of DEFRA by food processors it seems likely processed food will be exempted from the new regulations. Processors will not be obliged to say where their meat ingredients originate from, which is just as well as it could be from a dozen or so countries. Baking a Pie in the UK using processed meat ingredients from several countries will still qualify as ‘Made in Britain’ which of course reads much better to consumers than ‘Assembled in Britain’. After a series of meetings with the British Meat Processors Association Mr Eustice has informed the EU that: ‘National labelling….would place an unnecessary financial burden on business’.
Mr Eustice’s change of heart has been hailed as a victory by dodgy EU abattoirs and processors who are heaving a sigh of relief. Not so the advisors to David Cameron who stated in 2007: ‘Food can be imported to Britain, processed here, and subsequently labelled in a way that suggests it’s genuinely British. That is completely wrong.’ He even launched an ‘Honest Food Campaign’ pledging compulsory labelling for food origins. But that was when he was in opposition and 3 years away from leading a coalition government.
Meurig Raymond, the president of the National Farmers Union said: “I find this very strange behaviour from our ministers”. Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, accused DEFRA of allowing business to dictate policy, saying: “Owen Paterson and his ministers are saying all the right things, but there is a gap between the rhetoric and what gets done. So who is pulling the strings?”
Who knows – but of course it will still be an offence to inaccurately describe a product e.g. a ‘beef and onion’ pie which actually contains horsemeat. But provided the contents are hygienically-processed and therefore wholesome to eat such mislabelling is only a descriptive failure so unlikely to result in anything more than a slap on the wrist for the producer.
Processed foods comprise a significant part of the estimated 3.4 million tonnes of food wasted every year in the UK food processing, packaging and distribution industries before it even reaches retailers and restaurants. After it does an additional 400,000 tonnes are discarded by UK retailers whilst still edible.
The ‘All Party Parliamentary inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty’ chaired by Frank Field MP reported as much last month and showed how many of those 800 million would-be meals are then converted into ‘Biogas’. Fermenting edible food waste into biofuel and hence electricity is encouraged by £30 million of subsidy from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The Committee then illustrated how non-subsidised organisations such as ‘FareShare’ – distributors of surplus foodto Foodbanks – have to charge £100/tonne to collect it from supermarkets, so are losing-out to biogas producers.
Frank called the system ‘Madness on stilts’ and the Committee called for changes to the system of subsidies. That in turn highlighted the incentives offered by HM Government to meet the ‘15% electricity from renewables’ target for 2020. Food waste has now become part of the wider argument for and against subsidising otherwise-uneconomical ‘renewable’ generation such as windfarms.
This shameful waste has been known for a long time but Frank hopes to ramp up the pressure on processors, wholesalers and retailers to produce less waste and then offer what’s left to worthy causes. OK, some retailers do donate to FareShare but industry-wide this represents less than 2% of waste – a token gesture. Tesco have confirmed 68% of it’s bagged salads and 48% of it’s bakery goods are discarded.
Meanwhile 25-year old, Bordeaux-born cyclist Baptiste Dubanchet has perfected his skip-diving skills whilst scavenging his way across Europe. To highlight the scandal of food waste he lived solely off the contents of supermarket and restaurant skips during a 3-month, 1,900 mile odyssey pedalling through France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Poland. He looks none the worse for it and you can follow his blog: ‘La Faim du Monde’ at www.lafaimdumonde2014.com Monsieur Dubanchet is supported by the likes of Mary McGrath from British charity, FoodCyclewww.foodcycle.org.uk She points out that 4 million of the UK’s 62 million residents now live in ‘food poverty’ which she says: ‘…shouldn’t co-exist in the same community as food waste’.
Good point Mary. It would be interesting to learn in which country Baptiste would most likely starve to death. Probably Germany, because according to EU statistics authority Eurostat Deutchsland is the EU’s top recycler at 65% whilst Britain achieves 43.9% and France recycles just 39%. Baptiste would be far better off in Romania which recycles just 1% of it’s waste. But hang on – isn’t that where all the horsemeat came from?
Forget Dale Winton and Supermarket Sweep – the sport of ‘Extreme Couponing’ is joining Aldi-Stalking as the latest craze amongst cash-strapped Shoppers.
According to UK service provider Valassis, more than £1.7 billion of short-term offers were redeemed by retailers last year – either coupons which reduce the price of a particular product or vouchers which reduce the total shopping bill. By Valassis’ estimate the turnover in coupons and vouchers was up 35% on the previous year – better growth than online sales at a mere 20%.
This news came hot on the heels of the money-saving website www.promotionalcodes.org naming Natalie Cooper, 24 of Louth, Lincolnshire as Online Bargain Hunter of the Year for her ‘prolific use of discount codes and deals’. Natalie claims to save £150/month on shopping bills by using coupons and discount codes. Whilst the UK does not (yet, thankfully) have an Extreme Couponing TV show as seen in the USA, it does have a Facebook group created by Jordon Cox, a 16-year-old Essex schoolboy. This has some 52,000 ‘likes’ from users who swop details of the latest offers and how to use them. Jordon became famous in 2013 for using discount vouchers to buy £600’s worth of goods for 4p.
Ms Cooper spends her time looking online for discount codes, supermarket loyalty scheme vouchers and writing 20 letters a month to supermarket PR departments. Over half then send her coupons, vouchers or product samples in return because “rather than just write and ask for coupons I offer recipes, or take a picture of myself with the product”.
Natalie also offers other useful tips, such as using Savoo.co.uk,HotUkDeals.co.uk and Vouchercodes.co.uk to look for discount codes. Finally she advises: “Avoid busy times at the checkout – and be polite. If there’s someone behind you, suggest they go in front if you have lots of coupons”. This greatly reduces the risk of violent assault by other shoppers.
Whilst supermarket price-matching wars have fuelled the popularity of coupons and vouchers, do such offers ever go wrong? Well yes, quite often, according to Charles D’Oyly, the MD of Valassis. “Mistakes can happen easily,” he says. “Issuers can put the wrong value on a coupon, or print too many. You need to have the terms and conditions very clear and they must have an expiry date.” Asda recently withdrew a £50 discount offer intended for single use after a rogue barcode allowed shoppers to use it repeatedly. The supermarket cancelled the voucher within hours and a spokesman confirmed: “A small number of savvy customers…got more money off than they should have”.
This highlighted a particular problem for retailers: The speed by which Shoppers learn of an ‘opportunity’. Online bargain-hunting forums like HotUKDeals and MoneySavingExpert quickly spread the word when a loophole appears. Last Autumn the members of HotUkDeals bulk-bought ice cream at 88% discount when smaller Tesco stores ran a ‘two-for-£3’ offer on ice cream at the same time as ‘two-for-£3’ on pizza and ice cream. Shoppers saved twice by combining both promotions.
Taking advantage like that is not illegal although it’s not a recommended way to stock your stall. Dan Plant from MoneySavingExpert.com says: “Companies lay out exactly how an offer works in the small print. More often than not this is where the traps lie … but if you can use a voucher as described within the small print legalese, then you can fill your boots”. Taking advantage of mistakes has turned into an enjoyable challenge for some Shoppers, but those who go a step further and tamper with a barcode or digitally reproduce a voucher for reprinting are likely to get hammered. Another problem is ‘misredemption’ – Shoppers who use out of date coupons or ones which don’t apply to what’s in their shopping basket. This ‘voucher abuse’ costs retailers a few hundred million quid a year but rarely ends in court unless a Shopper tries to make a living out of it. The test case was Nigel and Penny Ward of Cambridge who were found guilty in 2011 of fraudulently re-using Clubcard vouchers dozens of times to obtain £1,100 worth of ‘free’ groceries.
Obviously supermarkets monitor the voucher forums to counter the efforts of bargain hunters as well as determined fraudsters. They check the wording of coupons and vouchers for errors but the sheer volume of offers poses a real challenge, particularly when redemption is reliant on a harassed checkout girl on a part-time contract. Even more so when she’s faced with Natalie at the front of a long queue with a shopping bag full of vouchers.
A recent caller to BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine revealed another ‘how-to’ way to save money – cheat a self-service till. The live interview was hugely entertaining and hovered between journalistic enthusiasm, admiration for a very streetwise kid and discouraging listeners from trying it themselves. Certain online forums describe the techniques but unfortunately these were unknown to City of London recruitment consultant, Nicholas Long, 25 who was rumbled whilst on the take at the Lombard Street EC3 branch of Sainsburys Local.
Nick used to play international hockey for the England under-19 squad, but after being hit on the head once too often began scanning all of his self-service purchases as ‘loose onions’. The slight problem is that Sainsburys Lombard Street doesn’t sell loose onions, so after repeating it some 20 times over 3 months even the minimum-wage security guard noticed the deception. Nick admitted ‘fraud by false representation’ and was sentenced to 180 hours of community service and £250 costs. This was a lot less painful than he’d have experienced had he tried it on at Leadenhall Market.
When I was at college I shared a flat with a Psychologist who was barking mad but now probably very rich and working for Wal-Mart. Helping retailers understand how shoppers react when faced with choices is a very profitable business.
The layout of a Market Hall should follow the same principles used in a department store – Shoppers must be encouraged to walk past every stall before leaving the premises. That principle dictates ‘who goes where’ in a Market Hall because some types of use block the view of units behind them. At worst this creates a ‘deadmans’ alley’ which customers never visit and Mr Selfridge knew back in 1909. He positioned jewellery and beauty displays at the front of his store and products which need a ‘high-rise’ display at the back. The same principle is still valid today but often results in a spectacular argument when a front stall becomes vacant. The manager who opts to keep it empty rather than permit a Berlin Wall of shoe boxes is doing the right thing but doesn’t make many friends.
Life is a lot simpler for Supermarket managers. They don’t have to fight-off psychopathic shoe traders and are more concerned at packing in as many product lines as possible. They try to align the racking so you can see the Meat and Bakery on the back wall but aside from that they move things around to suit themselves, often on a weekly basis. In the USA psychologists were quick to latch onto this and offer their theories about purchasing behaviour to help supermarkets maximise sales. One of the alleged classic successes was to place canned beer next to nappies, (Why? – see later). Behavioural psychologists invented a whole new industry for themselves, advising what should be put where.
UK supermarkets have adopted many of the same principles so it was interesting to see the consumer organisation, Which? blow the whistle on how they use Sigmund Freud’s theories. It equipped researchers with funky, Google-type ‘smart specs.’ which recorded their eye movements and sent them off shopping at Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. And the black magic worked – the researchers came back with more than they set out to buy whilst their eye movements recorded why.
Putting aside all the really clever ideas – EFT and loyalty cards which predict shopping patterns etc – researchers found the first technique was to slow people down. Slow shoppers buy more, so after driving into the carpark at 60 mph they need to be slowed down at the store entrance. A deceleration zone is used, with an automatic door, calming music and seasonal goods to put them in a calmer mood. The entrance area obviously needs to cater for ‘convenience’ visits (a lunchtime sandwich, soft drink and pack of fags) but ideally should relax visitors into an extended ‘dwell time’. I always thought they put fruit and veg. next to the entrance – not the exit – because it’s bright and cheerful, but not so. Cunning psychologists have worked out that shoppers who make ‘healthy’ purchases then go on to reward themselves by buying additional junk food – despite squashing their tomatoes as they walk around.
Encouraging shoppers to circulate by placing staple purchases such as meat and bread on the back wall is straightforward enough, as is scattering other staples like dairy and preserves to ensure all the aisles are visited. The psychologists have taken this a step futher though and recommend arrow aisles to display ‘essential’ purchases. Narrow aisles discourage dawdling i.e. encourage quicker turnover on essentials, whilst wider aisles encourage pausing and are used to display luxury goods. In the USA (where else?) some stores even reduce the size of their floor tiles in the wide, luxury aisles to give Shoppers the impression they’re moving faster than they actually are. This makes them feel a lot less guilty about purchasing luxury items.
‘Eye-height is buy-height’ is a common saying in retailing, so product brands pay a fee for eye-level positioning and even more for the ‘golden zone’ next to the checkouts where mothers reward kids with sweets and themselves with copies of the ‘People’s Friend’. Apparently shoppers choose between similar brands by scanning them from left to right so higher-margin products are often placed on the left whilst value lines are relegated to the right or bottom shelf.
Cunning stuff, but now you know.
Last month also saw some interesting news from Morrisons:
Firstly they were forced to apologise for turning the ‘Angel of the North’ into a giant advert for their baguettes. Like all the big four supermarkets they’ve been losing out to Aldi and Lidl so they slashed the price of some 1,200 lines before projecting a 175 foot long image of a baguette onto the famous sculpture. The statue stands alongside the A1 in Gateshead and is one of Britains most popular pieces of public art and locals were not amused. ‘I’m cheaper at Morrisons’ may be true but someone should have asked the Council first. Morrisons promptly apologised and begged Geordies to continue shopping with them.
Secondly, consumer data researchers Shopitize confirmed Morrisons is a best place to pick up a date. 60% of Morrisons shoppers on Tuesday are girlies but Sainsburys on a Saturday is a better bet if you’re interested in blokes. 13% of trolley pushers have swopped telephone numbers, 6% have dated and 2% have married. There are several websites offering help and advice on pick-up techniques with tips like displaying a big bunch of bananas. This is, apparently a blatant come-on.
This sad news confirms we’re now more likely to judge someones’s personality by inspecting their shopping trolley instead of shouting over the music in the Wallsend Working Mens Social Club.
See above: A (dodgy) urban myth suggests USA retailer Wal-Mart (who now own Asda) used to place six-packs of beer next to their babycare products in ‘blue collar’ neighbourhood stores. Loyalty card research identified men as the principal purchasers of nappies, having been sent out by mothers to buy supplies. The men were happy to do so to avoid nappy-duty but liked to reward themselves with a six-pack for the inconvenience.
Are all banks bad? Not so, say Anglican and Roman Catholic Church clergy who used their Easter sermons to speak out about poverty and destitution. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, used the growth of UK Foodbanks to show how people still suffer in the UK – not just in Syria and the Ukraine. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster spoke of those who feel ‘excluded from the fruits of the Earth’ whilst the Bishop of Truro, Tim Thornton said welfare cuts were having ‘sinful consequences’. Then they banded together with a few hundred other clergy to send a letter to the coalition government demanding more action against poverty, claiming that more than half of Foodbank users are in that situation because of welfare reforms.
The UK’s largest Foodbank provider, the Trussell Trust has confirmed a 51% rise in useage in the last couple of years with young, single adults now matched by single mums, families and OAP’s. One manager said: ‘They’re not all unemployed. Many are working on minimum-wage salaries or zero hour contracts or training in part-time jobs like security guarding’. The Foodbank users blame their situation on price rises as well as benefits cuts – something which government departments have leapt upon to deflect criticism. Although the Prime Minister has praised the work of Foodbanks the Dept. of Work and Pensions has hit back at criticism of welfare cuts. The Civil Servants have suggested the real problem is high food prices due to global trade protectionism (e.g. the EU Common Agricultural Policy?) They point out that global energy prices trebled between 2003 and 2010 whilst environmentalists continue to reject the costs of energy independence – nuclear power, coal-fired power stations and fracked gas.
There’s nothing new about ‘turbulent priests’ having a poke at government policy but at least they don’t get their heads chopped off for doing so nowadays. The debate echoes last Autumn’s announcement by Business Secretary Vince Cable that HMG was investigating whether ‘zero-hours’ employment contracts should be regulated. The findings of the review commissioned from Cambridge University by his Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) certainly suggests so. It concludes such contracts are ‘damaging to the mental health of most employees’.
Researchers Alex Wood and Brendan Burchell spent a year talking to shopfloor workers and union officials in an ‘unnamed supermarket chain’ before concluding ‘Workplace flexibility is thought of as helping employees but has become completely subverted across much of the service sector to suit the Employer – and huge numbers of workers are suffering as a consequence’. Their parallel study of an American supermarket chain produced similar findings. I think I know who they’re talking about.
‘Extreme’ part-time contracts and ‘key-time’ contracts which offer a small number of guaranteed hours and ‘frequent labour-matching’ where managers rearrange shifts to meet customer demand are blamed for creating job insecurity and stress. Employers often promote them as ‘work when you want’ but in reality managers use them to hit local sales targets whilst head office pursues a hidden agenda of reducing NI contributions and dodging employment legislation. ‘It’s the invidious way that vulnerable people at the lower end of the labour market are forced to live their lives that requires scrutiny’ the Cambridge researchers conclude. ‘People and their families are suffering enormous levels of anxiety and even mental illness because of what is fast becoming common practice’.
Aren’t you pleased that you’re self-employed? This sounds like another problem for Justin Welby to sort out once he’s dealt with Gay marriage and Payday loan Companies.
On a less serious note the press has exposed a couple of excellent stories for cat-lovers. After vets diagnosed several cases of feline tuberculosis followed by two cases of TB amongst cat owners the Public Health authorities went into overdrive. Cat-lovers were reassured Moggie isn’t a ticking time bomb on the sofa. Bertie Squire, Professor at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine pointed out “The real problem of human TB in the UK has nothing to do with cows, badgers, or cats – it’s humans.” He confirmed that you’re much more likely to catch TB (or something far less curable) from that charming foreign waiter you met on holiday. Also that in the UK in 2012 there were 8,100 cases of TB transmitted human-to-human and only 26 from animals to humans – and they were all from cattle. This news came as a welcome bonus to badgers who also learnt DEFRA had cancelled it’s experimental cull in Somerset. HM Government has now switched investment from incompetent marksmen to vaccines for badgers and cattle. This should save £30million of compensation paid-out to cattle farmers each year.
And finally: Zero hours working and job-sharing have finally spread to Downing Street. The Prime Minister has forced the ‘Chief mouser to the Cabinet Office’ – ‘Larry’ Cameron into a job-share with streetfighter and former stray ‘Freya’ Osborne. Larry’s persistently low kill-rate has been boosted by Freya who has survived Cat TB and the mean streets of Notting Hill without any Foodbank assistance. Armed police cross the street and avoid her when she strolls past.
Show her some respect.
Markets are back in the news: Bianca has had a go at new, roughty-toughty Market Inspector Aleks Shirov about closing the Albert Square gaff. Rumour has it the Council are planning to close it down to encourage Cityboy bankers to move in, but there’ll be no Borough Market in Walford. Great stuff – Pete Beale would have been proud of her.
Meanwhile the Danish government has stirred up another hornets nest by banning so-called ‘ritual slaughter’ i.e. cutting an animal’s throat to bleed it dry without stunning it beforehand. Slaughter without stunning beforehand is banned under EU animal welfare legislation but Countries are allowed to apply exemptions for religious purposes e.g. for shechita (‘Kosher’) and dhabihah (‘Halal’) meat.
The UK applies those exemptions so long as they don’t cause ‘unnecessary suffering’ but Danish minister for agriculture Dan Jørgensen followed the lead of Sweden and Norway by announcing “Animal rights come before religion”. This has outraged Jewish and Muslim religious groups unable to obtain meat slaughtered in accordance with their dietary rules. Al Jazeera quoted monitoring group Danish Halal which is fighting the ban as saying it is “a clear interference in religious freedom which limits the rights of Muslims and Jews to practice their religion in Denmark”. That’s not quite the message that countries want to put across to ethnic minorities.
Someone has suggested the Danish Government should have been equally concerned about the welfare of poor Marius – a perfectly healthy but unwanted 18-month old giraffe – who was shot dead in Copenhagen zoo a week earlier despite worldwide outrage. He was then fed to the lions.
HM Government has confirmed it will continue to enforce EU animal welfare legislation whilst continuing to allow religious exemptions. In reality many of the approved slaughtermen do follow ‘best practice’ guidelines issued by the religious authorities, some of which even involve stunning, but the government continues to fight off pressure from the British Veterinary Association. Even the RSPCA recognises the need for compromise and it and the English Beef and Sheep Association are asking instead for specific Kosher and Halal labelling – one for ‘pre-stunned’ and one for ‘non-stunned’ – so the consumer can choose. John Blackwell, the president elect of the British Veterinary Association supports that, saying: “The proposals are all about choice – if people want to consume kosher or halal and they don’t have a strong opinion about stunning then they would have freedom of choice”. That sounds very sensible.
HM Government should consider itself lucky. In the Netherlands the government has to argue legislation through a 12-Party(!) parliament which includes the ‘Party for the Animals’ http://www.partyfortheanimals.nl. This is not a stag weekend in Amsterdam but a serious political organisation with clout – especially at local government level when it tends to gang up with the GreenLeft party to force through animal welfare issues.
Another person who has stirred up controversy is Richard Nicholson of JBS Butchers, Sudbury who hangs an impressive display of rabbit, duck, pheasant, goose and pigs heads in his shop window. So much so that some locals consider “it looks like a scene from a horror movie” whilst others say “if you live in a farming community what do you expect?”
Some pics and a Daily Mail storyline might not all be good publicity. I spend a lot of time poking around butchers stalls and coldrooms and I can’t help thinking this might backfire on him. Is that a pork joint I see on the counter, lying uncovered beneath the hanging rabbits? People might like a bit of game ‘in the fur’ but they’re not too keen on buying joints that have been lying underneath it. Remember CIEH Food Hygiene, Level 2? – I’m sure the EHO does.
Whether you like it or not most shoppers are conditioned by what they see in supermarket cabinets and don’t buy rabbits, ducks and geese ‘in the feather’ before taking them home to dress them – they expect the butcher to do the dirty work. We all know where it comes from and a lot of people just don’t like having their noses rubbed in it. My butcher hangs the furry bits behind a glass screen but keeps a plastic pheasant on the counter with a label round its neck. That gets the sales message across.
Of course if you feel really strongly about animal welfare then you can be a vegetarian. Not that it helped poor Marius.
It’s time to celebrate – the recession is over!
Official government figures confirm the UK economy grew faster than expected in 2013 and at the fastest rate since the 2007 financial crisis. Economic growth for 2013 was 1.9% - a vast improvement over 0.3% seen in 2012. At this rate UK plc may be able to claw itself back up to the size it was before the crisis – just in time for the May 2015 general election. So is this all good news? Well maybe for London and the UK as a whole but maybe not so for small businesses and provincial towns.
Firstly, the Bank of England has kept it’s base interest rate down to 0.5% for the last 5 years but might not do so for much longer. Business loans and mortgage rates may become expensive which is bad news for small businesses and consumers.
Secondly, the vast majority of economic growth has been in London and the South East. Given that Markets are a good indicator of a local economy what is still glaringly apparent is the contrast between London (‘Recession- what recession?’) and the economy in the rest of the country. Anyone staring at empty stalls and boarded-up shops along the High Street in Mudford-on-Sea is bound to consider throwing in the towel and heading for the bright lights. Some economists have even suggested the economy is now so ‘Metrocentric’ that anything outside the South East is almost ignored by a Parliament which sits in London.
OK – Birmingham, Manchester Liverpool and Leeds may show ‘green shoots of recovery’ but what about the medium to small towns outside the metropolitan areas? A recent report: ‘Cities Outlook 2014’ prepared by research organisation ‘Centre for Cities’ suggests London is sucking in provincial talent and ideas faster than ever. You can download a copy from www.centreforcities.org. As a result the London residential property market is rocketing and has become unaffordable for first-time buyers whilst perfectly good £70k terraced homes in the provinces stand empty. The decision by Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney to withdraw mortgage support for first-time buyers may stop the London housing market from overheating but does nothing for Mudford.
This is not good news for (A) Londoners faced with a sky-high cost of living and accommodation and (B) the rest of the country emptied of talent and investment. The report contains some startling figures about so-called internal immigration into London, let alone external immigration into London from the rest of the EU. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee also pointed out the experience of Spain that HS2-type high speed rail accelerates the problem.
A lady stallholder in Mudford has suggested a solution. She proposes a return to ‘government by itineration’ i.e. Parliament travels the country and sits in the provinces for six months of the year, rather like the Monarch did in the Middle Ages. A couple of weeks in Mudford would be welcomed by her and other local businesses – even more so if the £80 billion HS2 budget was diverted to improving infrastructure within the town, not leading out of it.
Despite the vitality of London one of the saddest sights you’ll still see are the ‘skipdivers’ who appear at closing time, scavenging for unsold stock. Unfortunately it’s still a common sight so it was interesting to see the CPS do a U-turn on an intended prosecution last month.
North London squat-dwellers Paul May, Jason Chan and William James were arrested after rummaging through the bins at the back of an Iceland foodstore in Kentish Town, North London. The Crown Prosecution Service intended to prosecute them under the 1824 Vagrancy Act but the Iceland Chief Executive swiftly stepped-in and asked for the case to be dropped because ‘the Company had not sought a prosecution’.
This quick-thinking avoided awkward publicity about why so much food was being skipped and a potential PR train crash for Iceland. But it also left unanswered some interesting legal issues, e.g. are you ‘stealing’ something when it ‘s already been dumped as waste? A successful prosecution would have been bad news for Private Investigators who specialise in juicy scandals scavenged from household bin bags.
The case also highlighted how UK food retailers and consumers remain amazingly wasteful. Some foodstores do donate unsellable short shelf-life products to food banks and homeless charities but a staggering six million tonnes (£10 billion!) of food is still binned by consumers every year because it is ‘out of date’. Shoppers don’t understand the difference between the statutory ‘Use-by’ date and the retailers ‘Sell-by’ or ‘Best-until’ dates. Unsellable short-dated stock gets skipped by retailers so into the Iceland bins went £33-worth of mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese and Mr Kipling cakes, only to be snaffled by Paul, Jason and Bill.
Given that it was intended for landfill you can’t help sympathising with them, but it wasn’t terribly bright to scale a wall near a Police station at midnight and trespass on private property. That’s a bit different to skipdiving through the bins on Mudford Market.
Paul May said he was anything but ashamed at sharing discarded food with his housemates. “It’s more morally questionable they throw away usable food than how people recover it” he said. “In some ways I’m proud of what we do.” Recovering food from skips allows him and his ‘Freegan’ chums to eat more healthily than buying food on a low income and they regularly recover large quantities of frozen chicken breasts and the like. The previous week they’d even enjoyed a luxurious quail supper.
A spokesperson for the CPS said “We have paid particular regard to the seriousness of the alleged offence and the level of harm done. Both of these factors weigh against a prosecution. Additionally, further representations received today from Iceland Foods have affected our assessment of the public interest in prosecuting.”
Everyone knows the Netherlands is a pleasant place to visit and the Dutch have a pretty laid-back attitude to some errr… ‘vices’ such as Cannabis – but maybe not so to Sugar. Paul van der Velpen is head of the Amsterdam Public Health Services and wants to see it regulated. Obesity in the Netherlands has doubled in the last 20 years or so and he blames much of that on sugar, not the deep-fried croquettes, cannabis or certain other things on offer in De Wallen.“Just like alcohol and tobacco, sugar is actually a drug. It is the most dangerous drug of the times and can be easily acquired everywhere” he says on the official public health website. He has cited research suggesting that sugar – unlike fat or other foods – as well as making you fat is actually addictive, creating an insatiable desire to continue eating. He has accused the food industry of cynically exploiting the effect by adding extra sugar to processed food to increase sales. Now he wants to set limits set on how much can be added, plus a ban on sugar-laden sweets and soft drinks sold in schools and cigarette packet-style warnings about the health risk.
His suggestions come in the wake of new guidelines on sugar intake proposed by the World Health Organisation. The WHO is likely to recommend adults halve their average daily sugar intake from the current ten teaspoons a day to five in order to reduce diabetes, heart disease, obesity and tooth decay. If the UK Department of Health adopts the guidelines (as seems likely) then food companies will be forced to reduce sugary ingredients. That would be hugely expensive for the industry and might prove highly unpopular with it’s sugar-addicted customers.
The work for WHO has been led by the snappily-named ‘International Association for the Study on Obesity’ which has described the guidelines as ‘political dynamite’ given the size of investment in the food industry. A spokesperson suggested ”The food industry will do everything in their power to undermine the guidelines” which was a sentiment echoed in the UK by ‘Action on Sugar’, a pressure group urging the DoH to adopt the recommendations without delay.
‘Action on Sugar’ has been set up by the same people who gave us ‘Consensus Action on Salt and Health’ (CASH) to reduce consumers’ salt intake and their blood pressure. CASH was highly successful at raising awareness, partly because it’s Chairman, Graham MacGregor is professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine. He is now pressing the Dept. of Health to set sugar content standards for the food industry although he concedes this can be done bit by bit. The target is a 30% reduction over 5 years with enforceable standards which don’t leave manufacturers too much room for ‘interpretation’ of labelling rules. The group has kicked-off it’s campaign by ‘naming and shaming’ several products, including:
• Starbucks Caramel Frappucino with whipped cream (tall) – 11 teaspoons of sugar.
• Coca Cola Original (330ml) – 9 teaspoons of sugar
• Mars bar – (standard size) – 5 teaspoons of sugar
• Heinz tomato soup (300ml) – 4 teaspoons of sugar
Reducing sugar content could be good news for Fruiterers (a quick fructose fix for office workers?) but equally bad news for Starbucks – not that they care too much after years of dodging UK tax.
This is the start of a long and potentially very boring debate whilst scientists argue about how you define sugar content – added sugar versus naturally-occurring sugar etc – but will have a fundamental impact on food ingredients. A ‘Mars a day’ could definitely be your limit unless manufacturers opt to change ingredients.
Whilst the food industry lines up for the battle the tobacco industry continues to receive a battering. The not-so-good news for Irish smokers is an announcement by Irish Health Minister James Reilly of plans for a ‘tobacco-free Ireland’ by 2025. “Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland” he stated, whilst acknowledging it poses an ‘extraordinary challenge’ to reduce smoking from 22% to under 5% of the population. But maybe he’ll be successful; No-one expected the Irish government to be successful with it’s 2004 ban on smoking in public buildings. It now proposes to extend this to parks and beaches to ‘de-normalise’ smoking for children.
Meanwhile the recession and sky-high duty rates have fuelled a surge in cigarette smuggling into the UK and Ireland. The worldwide price differences make it amazingly profitable – until you get caught that is. The smugglers’ benchmark is the ‘Marlboro index’ which currently stands at well over £8.00 for 20 fags in the UK and Ireland, versus £1.10 in Russia and the Far East. Not surprisingly HM Revenue and Customs and the Irish Gardai are hammering anyone who tries to import or sell smuggled fags. Don’t be tempted by anyone offering them as a profitable sideline for your stall.
On a lighter note, if you want to see how much you’re paying for your fun and filthy habits take a look at the ‘Vice-ometer’ calculator at http://www.thisismoney.co.uk It tells you how much of your booze, fags and lottery money goes back to the government in tax. Sadly it doesn’t include the cost of a lads’ weekend in Amsterdam or what you have to do to earn an ounce of snout in Wormwood Scrubs. I’m told one of them isn’t very nice.