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  • Writer's pictureZsofia NAGY

An ongoing lesson on ethics in food supply chains



Today early morning an article came across which woke me up better than any coffee could have: Farmers in Southern Europe started picking oranges earlier due to high demand from retail organisations, despite many varieties not being ripe enough.

For those not knowing, oranges are one of those not ripening, if picked unripe (there are many others too).

This can mean that even if they turn orange in colour, the taste won't be as it normally would be when ripe = people will likely find them sour, unpleasant to eat.

Although I don't support picking anything unripe and support buying as local as possible, my point today is focusing on the decisions we make every day in supply chains and the scrutinity we need to apply to all of our actions as it is so easy to slip up.

What will likely happen due to picking the oranges unripe?

  1. we buy it in the grocery store (=effort, time & money in)

  2. try to eat at home, find it not suitable for eating (=further effort & time in, no return)

  3. throw in the garbage or in better cases to the compost, where possible and there is a willingness to do so (= even more effort, time & money to handle it, little return if compost is utilised well)

  4. if someone is a fermentation genius, they can try to make something out of them (hint: minority of the population at the moment, equally more effort/time and money to do it and some return)

I did not even mention the effort, time and money that went into growing the fruits in the first place or the potential impact on the trees picking them unripe.

Is pushing farmers to pick too early ethical? - No, it isn't. It is a sourcing activity purely driven by profit orientation of the retailers that creates a lot of food waste and unhappy consumers.

Back to basics, again as consumers, we have a point of responsibility here:

  1. check the harvest calendars relevant for your area*

  2. buy only according to what's in (=in season)

  3. check with further resources, if in doubt

I'm not asking anyone to become a farmer or know everything, but keep our eyes open and learn the necessary minimum to support sustainable farming.

I did notice a lot of unripe citrus this year in grocery stores. In general, we need to understand that we don't always have the same supply of produce each year/season and we should not have that either. If a Summer is weaker, then some produce will arrive later to grocery stores or won't arrive at all, or will be much more expensive as comes from far away, where the hours of Sun were adequate.

I still remember having citrus fruits only in Dec-Jan each year when I was younger, which based on the seasonality calendars of where I live is correct, so it should remain so (correct = not exploiting nature).

There is a fine line between working with nature to support feeding the population and exploiting nature, which will rapidly end in no food at all.

As for those in sourcing positions:

  1. revise your responsible sourcing standards & guidelines in your organisation to focus not only on labour relevant issues, but also on food quality issues (expand your standards so to speak)

  2. increase understanding of the category you are buying for everyone along your supply chain, especially your decision makers

  3. say no and speak up, if you are asked to source something that does not follow the extended ethical sourcing standards & guidelines (I hope you don't want to buy and bring home unripe produce that you paid for but cannot eat either!)

I know, many would say that organisations have responsible sourcing standards already.....so either someone did not follow them or they aren't so wide-spread as we wish to think or they are all focused on labour related ethical behaviour. I'd go with the last option.

(*examples here for individuals: https://www.seasonalfoodguide.org/ or local for me https://fooby.ch/en/cookery-school/seasonal-calendar.html?startAuto1=0)


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