One potential downside from implementing vulnerability assessments across the food supply chain in an attempt to reduce supply chain risk is that we will start to reduce claims that are made on packaging resulting in less diversity, but I will do a separate post on this subject.
In many ways we have already seen that the relentless drive towards efficiency and cost reduction has reduced the diversity of products available to consumers.
Therefore I was delighted to read in the Sunday Times that The prince of Wales is growing 1,000 different varieties of rare and historic apple trees at his country estate to serve as a “gene bank” to protect the future of Britain’s most popular fruit.
Charles is concerned that the dominance of a handful of apple varieties in the supermarkets is risky because it narrows the genetic mix.
According to Matt Ordidge curator of the national collection, specific varieties cannot be propagated by seed – and so orchards such as Charles’s are the only way to ensure their survival. The Wellcome Trust owns a similar collection at Tillington in Herefordshire. Ordidge goes on to say that “the experience of the Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century and current problems in banana production show that limiting the gene pool is not sustainable.”
It is encouraging to see that Tesco are providing some support as it disclosed that it was testing six varieties including Reinette Grise du Canada, with a view to stocking them in its stores.
John Worth, a fruit technologist at Tesco, said: “We are working with Brogdale in Kent to look at whether heritage varieties could be grown on a commercial scale.” I do hope this is successful but worry that there will be many challenges bringing heritage varieties to market commercially, and getting consumers to pay the requisite premium that these products would deserve.
The University of Reading is responsible for the curation and maintenance of the National Fruit Collection. The National Fruit Collection is one of the largest fruit collections in the world and is located at Brogdale Farm, near Faversham, Kent. Project partners, the Farm Advisory Services Team (FAST), will be responsible for the maintenance of the Collection. Public access is organised by Brogdale Collections, who are developing the site as a visitor attraction.
The National Fruit Collection includes over 3,500 named Apple, Pear, Plum, Cherry, Bush fruit, Vine and Cob Nut cultivars. The collection is owned by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and is part of an international programme to protect plant genetic resources for the future.
As a farmers son who grew up in rural Ireland I have fond memories of eating apples from our own and various neighbours apples trees and they all tasted amazingly different. I have to admit that none of these apples would have complied with the quality attribute standards defined in today’s food specifications.
Well done Charles, keep it up.