Scottish prawns are being hand-shelled in China, Atlantic haddock caught off Scotland is being prepared in Poland and Welsh cockles are being sent to Holland to be put in jars before going on sale in Britain.
Meanwhile, products grown overseas are taking circuitous routes to Britain. African-grown coffee is being packed 3,500 miles away in India, Canadian prawns are processed in Iceland, and Bolivian nuts are being packed in Italy.“We are producing food in one corner of the world, packing it in another and then shipping it somewhere else. It’s mad.”
Dawnfresh, a Scottish seafood company that supplies supermarkets and other large retailers, cut 70 jobs last year after deciding to ship its scampi more than 5,000 miles to China to be shelled by hand, then shipped back to the River Clyde in Scotland and breaded for sale in Britain.
The company said it was forced to make the move by commercial pressures. “This seems a bizarre thing to do but the reality is that the numbers don’t stack up any other way,” said Andrew Stapley, a director. “We are not the first in the industry to have had to do this. Sadly, it’s cheaper to process overseas than in the UK and companies like us are having to do this to remain competitive.”
Haddock is one of the fish most commonly caught by British trawlers, but Tesco sends its Atlantic haddock for processing to Poland where labour costs are lower. It is then driven more than 850 miles to Tesco’s depot in Daventry, Northamptonshire.Traidcraft coffee, sold at Sainsbury’s, is made from beans grown in Bukoba, Tanzania.
Once the coffee is cultivated, it is driven 656 miles to Dar-es-Salaam and then shipped 3,250 miles to Vijayawada in India where it is packed. The coffee is loaded back on the ships and transported another 5,000 miles to Southampton. It is then driven 330 miles to Gateshead and is finally driven to Leeds for distribution to Sainsbury’s stores.
Sainsbury’s organic fair trade rice, produced in the lush foothills of the Himalayas, is shipped to Lille, France, rather than Britain, to be packed. It then makes a second journey to end up on Sainsbury’s shelves.It is not just fair trade coffee that is sent from country to country. Instead of directly importing coffee beans from Costa Rica for their instant coffee, Sainsbury’s and Tesco first send them to Germany. The final product then undergoes another 500-mile lorry journey to get to Britain.Similarly, French-grown walnuts sold in Waitrose are sent to Naples to be packed. The retailer’s Brazil nuts from South America are also transported to Italy before being sent to Britain.
The industrialisation of the food chain means even small firms are being forced to ship their produce abroad for processing. Pilchard fillets, produced by the Pilchard Works in Cornwall, are sent on the overnight ferry to France because there is no suitable processing plant in England. The pilchards are canned in Douarnenez in Brittany, then returned to Cornwall. Similarly, Welsh cockles – produced by Van Smirren Seafoods – are driven across Britain to Dover and then transported to Yerseke in Holland. They are pickled and put in jars before being sent back to Britain.
Caroline Lucas, the Green party MEP, said: “Ultimately, the price is paid by all of us in the shape of higher greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and congestion, and food that is both less tasty and less healthy.”