A major survey of supermarkets by Friends of the Earth (FOE) reveals today that most UK supermarkets source the majority of their apples and pears from abroad – despite a bumper British apple harvest this year.  FOE’s survey, conducted in late October-early November, involved more than 130 stores.

Waitrose was the only supermarket sourcing more of its fruit from the UK than from abroad, with 71% of the lines of apples and pears on sale home-grown.  Waitrose stores were taking   part in a British fruit festival during the survey, but other retailers also promoting British fruit had far less on the shelves.  This is despite recent media claims by Sainsburys and Tesco that they are committed to sourcing English fruit [Daily Telegraph 02/11/01].  Tesco and Safeway came bottom of the FOE league table, with three quarters of Safeway’s apples and pears imported.  British growers are now being forced to sell good quality British apples at below production cost for juicing [Information from English Apples and Pears]

Even less organic fruit was grown in the UK, the survey found. Asda, MS and Safeway did not stock any British organic apples, while half of Tesco’s organic apples came from outside the EU. Very few organic pears were available [Figures available from Friends of the Earth].

The survey revealed that choice is severely restricted by supermarkets.  Waitrose stocked the widest selection of apples, with an average 9-10 varieties of non-organic apple, compared to 6-7 in Co-op, MS, Somerfield and Tesco stores.  Only 2 – 5 varieties of pears were available.  There are around 6,000 varieties of apple and over 500 varieties of pear.  Such limited use of British-grown fruit means many local varieties are being lost – and around half of UK apple and pear orchards have been grubbed up since 1970.  Local varieties can be more resistant to pests and disease and so require less pesticides.  Importing fruit  also contributes to pollution and climate change.

FOE warned that supermarkets are putting the livelihoods of British growers at risk – at a time when many small farmers and producers are already struggling.  FOE is calling for Government action to support local orchards and better funding for British fruit growers wishing to convert to organic, so that shoppers have the opportunity to buy local affordable food [Get Real About Food and Farming – Friends of the Earth’s vision for the future of farming in the UK].

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Sandra Bell, Real Food Campaigner at Friends of the Earth said: “Many UK apples varieties are in danger of disappearing except in museum-like collections.  Supermarkets should be doing more to support British fruit growers.  And people can help by buying local apples from farmers markets and by demanding more choice from the supermarkets.  But the Government must also act – and use money from the Common Agricultural Policy to support orchards in the UK. This would help diversify the local farming economy, be good for consumers and make our countryside more attractive to tourists”.

John Breach, Chairman, British Independent Fruit Growers Association said: “I’m not surprised by these findings, over recent years the supermarkets have made it increasingly difficult for us to supply them.  We would like to see a return to more local sourcing of fruit but growers need to be assured that they will be able to sell their produce otherwise they will grub up their orchards.  We need much more support from the supermarkets.  We hope that this survey will make people think about where their fruit comes from and ask for British apples and pears.”