A Southend News Network investigation has uncovered ‘shocking’ levels of cruelty in the UK’s vegetable packing industry, with one factory in particular packing ‘more than 38’ mushrooms into a single punnet, all in the endless pursuit of higher profits.
Our undercover reporter visited Monty’s Mushrooms, one of Southend’s largest employers, and posed as a jobseeker looking for casual packing work. He told our Chief Reporter that within seconds of arriving on the factory floor, he had witnessed conditions for the mushrooms that were ‘inhumane beyond belief.’
He said: ‘The manager walked me around so that I could get a feel for the place, and the first thing that I saw was a regular supermarket-sized plastic punnet being filled. An operator was cramming them in by hand, and once they were all stuffed in he quickly wrapped the whole package in cling film – their oxygen would have run out within a few seconds.’
‘I thought that there were vegetable welfare guidelines in place so that mushrooms and similar products could have their lives ended in a humane and dignified manner – obviously I was wrong.’
‘I counted more than 38 mushrooms in a similar punnet. It seemed that the smaller the mushrooms were, the more that were crammed into each pack just so the supermarket could be guaranteed a 220g selection. The conditions for the chestnut and shitake mushrooms were just as distressing.’
‘I was then asked if I was comfortable using an industrial v-slicer, and when I nodded he took me to the slicing room. As lazy consumers, we demand pre-sliced mushrooms on a massive scale, and what I witnessed in this area will haunt me until my dying day.’
With so many supermarkets now selling mushrooms that are crammed into packets with barely any room to move, one retailer is taking the initiative to pack fruit and vegetables in a manner that fulfils a number of ethical guidelines.
Waitrose invited our team to their vegetable sorting and classification plant in Berkshire, and the centre’s Vegetable Ethics Compliance Officer Boris Le Gume showed us exactly how the John Lewis-owned retailer is trying to change the industry from the inside.
Boris said: ‘If you look at this packet of tomatoes on the vine, you will notice that their plastic tray has individual compartments so that each tomato can rest in complete comfort, dignity and privacy.’
‘When they are wrapped up, the packaging has a limited number of air inlets, and this ensures that they can remain alive right up until the moment that the customer cuts them up for a Niçoise.’
We were then taken down to meet a shipment of bananas that had just arrived by lorry. The scientifically-refrigerated area was bustling with staff who are involved with the retailer’s groundbreaking Second Yellow Chance programme.
Boris said: ‘We only use 95% of every consignment of bananas for store retail. As part of our Fairtrade commitments, the remaining 5% are sent into underprivileged areas all over the UK to train as classroom teaching assistants.’
Waitrose shopper Madeleine Blinkaard told Southend News Network that she feels ‘incredibly strongly’ about the findings of our report.
She said: ‘I am never going to buy mushrooms in those horrible punnets again – I will buy them loose from an environment where they have been free to interact with their surrounding atmosphere right up until their final moments.’
‘I will never purchase the pre-sliced variety ever again. I honestly didn’t realise that vegetables have to be killed so that they are ready to cook – I thought that it all just happened in secret behind closed doors somehow.’