Tesco has started selling “green” satsumas and clementines after relaxing its quality specifications in its latest attempt to reduce food waste.
The flesh inside is orange, ripe and edible, but as a result of recent warm weather in Spain the skins have failed to turn the normal colour.
By selling the so-called easy-peelers with green skins that resemble limes, the supermarket says it will slash food waste by giving them up to two days’ extra shelf life.
Green satsumas are already in the shops and clementines – a Christmas favourite – will follow shortly. Tesco claims to be the first supermarket to relax the rules on this type of fruit.
“At the moment green easy-peelers fall outside of the general quality specifications set by UK supermarkets but Tesco has made the leading move in order to cut down on food waste,” said Tesco’s citrus buyer, Debbie Lombaard.
“As a result of this move to take out a handling stage in the journey from farm to fork shoppers will gain extra freshness for their satsumas and clementines.”
To accelerate the colouring process, Spanish growers in the Valencia region have been putting the easy-peelers into a ripening room, but this extra handling has led to a small amount of fruit being damaged and going to waste.
Satsumas and other easy-peelers, as well as oranges, initially grow as a green fruit but turn orange as nights cool.
Over the past few years warmer Spanish temperatures in the early growing season for satsumas in September and October have remained higher into the autumn, delaying the natural process by which the fruit turns orange.
Tesco’s “perfectly ripe early season satsumas” come in a 600g net bag and cost the same (£1) as conventional orange-coloured ones. Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, sells nearly 15m 600g bags of satsumas and 75m bags of clementines each year.
Supermarkets have been criticised for contributing to the UK’s food waste mountain by sticking rigidly to quality specifications, and routinely rejecting “ugly” or mis-shapen, but edible, fruit and vegetables grown by suppliers.
Celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have helped drive a campaign to encourage consumers to be less obsessed with perfection, and for supermarkets to relax their rules to sell more “wonky” carrots and other odd-looking vegetables and fruit.
Last month, Tesco announced plans to join forces with suppliers to tackle global food waste. It has widened other quality specifications to take more of farmers’ crops, most recently with British-grown apples.
The changeable weather in Spain has been a challenge for supermarkets stocking salads and vegetables out of season in the UK. Earlier this year they were forced to ration lettuce and courgettes after snowstorms in Spain ravaged crops.
The Tagus river, the longest in the Iberian peninsula, is in danger of drying up completely as Spain once again finds itself in the grip of drought.
Miguel Ángel Sánchez, spokesman of the Platform in Defence of the Tagus, says “the river has collapsed through a combination of climate change, water transfer and the waste Madrid produces.”
The Tagus, known in Spanish as the Tajo and Portuguese as the Tejo, rises in Aragón in northern Spain, passes close to Madrid and forms part of the border with Portugal before flowing into the sea at Lisbon. En route, it is dammed no fewer than 51 times in Spain alone.
But its troubles begin at the headwaters in Aragón. In 1902 a plan was conceived to siphon off water from here and divert it to the Segura river to irrigate farms in the arid southeast in what is known as the Tajo-Segura transfer. Construction began in 1966 and water started flowing out of the dammed Tagus headwaters to the Segura in 1979.
However, the amount of available water was miscalculated and Spain’s cyclical droughts were not factored in. Today only 47% of the predicted water resources exist and levels in the two headwater dams are down to 11% capacity, too low to allow any transfers.
“All of these problems derive from designing a water transfer from the headwaters of a river, overestimating the available resources and joining two areas with similar climate cycles,” says Nuria Hernández-Mora, a founding member of the Foundation for a New Water Culture. “The transfer has served to create social and political conflict and turn the Tagus into one of the rivers in the worst ecological state in the peninsula.”
Siphoning off the headwaters is only permitted when the dams have sufficient water – previously this was just an option, not a guarantee of supply. However, the government recently passed a law that says that as soon as there is a surplus there is an obligation to transfer it, making it impossible to store water to cope with droughts.
The law flies in the face of the European water directive and when an EU delegation visited the Tagus and Ebro rivers last year it issued a highly critical report of Spain’s failure to conform with the directive.
The Tagus’s troubles don’t end with the transfer. Even after about 65% is siphoned to the Segura, it still has to supply Madrid’s 6 million inhabitants, whose inadequately treated waste water is dumped back into the river further downstream. The water from the Tagus is also used to cool nuclear reactors.
The Portuguese complain that Spain is siphoning off water and polluting the river, arguments Spain rejects. In January Lisbon filed a formal complaint with Brussels over Spain’s plans to build a nuclear waste treatment plant close to the river and the Portuguese border.
Spain’s water management has been driven by economics, not environmental considerations, says environmental lawyer María Soledad Gallego. “A river isn’t just a water resource, it has a cultural, social, historic and aesthetic value.”
In terms of water, Spain is living beyond its means. Agricultural demand in the Segura basin has been rising for decades, says Hernández-Mora, resulting in the over-exploitation of both ground and surface water. Water will always be a scarce resource in Spain, she says, and what needs to be controlled is demand.
While much is made of the transferred water being used to irrigate golf courses in arid Murcia, 85% of it is used to grow fruit and vegetables under plastic in that province and neighbouring Almería.
“We need to face reality and deal with the environmental implications,” says Gallego. “In the south-east agriculture is subsidised in the form of water transfers. They depend on there being a water surplus in other parts of the country and so they are always going to have problems. They need to live with the reality of what the Segura and Tajo basins can provide.”
Tourists have been warned to avoid blooms of toxic micro-algae that have been proliferating in hot weather in the sea off Spain’s Canary Islands.
Tenerife in particular is awash with visitors at this time of year but some of those having a dip in the Atlantic ocean have come out scratching themselves after brushing up against the tiny algae.
The spreading algae have produced a greenish-brown hue in the waters off some beaches in the tourist haven.
“Since the end of June we have seen episodes of massive efflorescence, or bloom, of microalgae, sometimes reaching as far as bathing beaches,” said Jose Juan Aleman, director of public health for the Canaries.
The algae are a type of bacteria, trichodesmium erythraeum, also known as sea sawdust, said Aleman.
“Its proliferation is a natural, temporary phenomenon which is going to disappear” in due course, he added, suggesting global warming was helping the algae spread.
The bacterium “contains a toxin which can lead to skin irritation, dermatitis, hence one must avoid coming into contact with it in the water and on the sand”.
With the islands last year welcoming more than 13 million foreign tourists, local authorities were keen to reassure sun-seekers.
“Generally it has not been necessary to close the beaches,” said Aleman.
However, AFP found that several have been closed to swimmers over recent weeks, including the popular Teresitas beach at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
Marta Sanson, professor of plant biology at Tenerife’s La Laguna university, said that “ideal conditions are allowing proliferation of these micro-algae”.
Those include “an increase in water temperature” as well as a “dust cloud sweeping in off the Sahara which is rich in iron, a nutrient which micro-organisms like”.
Eleven southern and central European countries have issued extreme heat warnings amid a brutal heatwave nicknamed Lucifer, with residents and tourists urged to take precautions and scientists warning worse could be still to come.
As temperatures in many places hit or exceeded 40C (104F) in the region’s most sustained heatwave since 2003, emergency services are being put on standby and people have been asked to “remain vigilant”, stay indoors, avoid long journeys, drink enough fluids and listen for emergency advice from health officials.
At least two people have died from the heat, one in Romania and one in Poland, and many more taken to hospital suffering from sunstroke and other heat-related conditions. Italy said its hospitalisation rate was 15% above normal and asked people in affected regions only to travel if their journey was essential. Polish officials warned of possible infrastructure failures.
A spokeswoman for Abta, the UK travel trade organisation, reinforced the advice for holidaymakers, saying they should take sensible precautions, keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water, stay out of the sun in the middle of the day, and follow any advice issued by health authorities in specific destinations.
The highest temperature on Thursday was 42C in Cordoba, Spain, and Catania, Italy. Split in Croatia also hit 42.3C on Wednesday. The spell is forecast to peak at the weekend with temperatures of 46C or higher in Italy and parts of the Balkans.
Authorities in Italy, which is suffering its worst drought in 60 years, have placed 26 cities on the maximum extreme heat alert, including Venice and Rome. Many of Rome’s fountains have been turned off, and last week the city only narrowly averted drastic water rationing.
In Florence, the Uffizi art gallery was temporarily closed on Friday when the air-conditioning system broke down. In Hungary, keepers at Budapest zoo cooled down two overheating polar bears with huge ice blocks.
Temperatures along parts of Croatia’s Adriatic coast, including Dubrovnik, were expected to hit 42C during the day. In the Serbian capital of Belgrade there were reports of people fainting from heat exhaustion.
Highs in Spain, including in popular holiday resorts on the Costa del Sol and on the island of Majorca, are set to reach 43C this weekend, with extreme conditions also forecast in Seville, Malaga and Granada. Ibiza and Mallorca could hit 42C, Spain’s Aemet meteorological service warned.
While Europe’s record high is 48C, set in Athens in 1977, current temperatures are in many places as much as 10-15C higher than normal for the time of year and likely to result in more fatalities, experts have said.
Europe’s record-breaking 2003 heatwave resulted in more than 20,000 heat-related deaths, mainly of old and vulnerable people, including 15,000 in France, where temporary mortuaries were set up in refrigerated lorries.
Such spells of extreme heat in southern Europe could be a foretaste of things to come. French researchers last month predicted summer conditions in some of the continent’s popular tourist destinations could become significantly tougher.
Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the scientists said if a similar “mega-heatwave” to that of 2003 were to occur at the end of the century, when average temperatures are widely expected to be noticeably higher after decades of global warming, temperatures could pass 50C.
The researchers noted that climate models suggest “human influence is expected to significantly increase the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves in Europe” and said their modelling suggested that by 2100, peak summer temperatures could rise by between 6C and 13C against historical records.
The village of Conqueyrac in the Gard department of France hit 44.1C on two occasions in the summer of 2003, the highest temperature ever recorded in the country, meaning “the record maximum value could easily exceed 50C by the end of the 21st century”, the scientists concluded.
About 300 firefighters and military personnel were fighting 75 wildfires on Friday in Albania, with firefighters also busy in Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Croatia, Greece and the French island of Corsica.
In Italy, fires killed a 79-year-old woman in the central Abruzzo region and forced the closure of the main Via Aurelia coastal motorway that runs northwards from Rome to the Italian Riviera.
The country’s winemakers have started harvesting their grapes weeks earlier than usual due to the heat. The founder of the Slow Food movement, Carlo Petrini, said no harvest in living memory had begun before 15 August.
The heatwave is likely to cost Italy’s agricultural sector billions of euros, with as many as 11 regions facing critical water shortages. Olive yields in some areas are forecast to be down 50% and some milk production has fallen by up to 30%.
Bosnian officials said the heatwave and drought had nearly halved agricultural output, which represents 10% of the country’s economic output, and Serbia said its corn production could be cut a third.
The environment minister, Jan Szyszko, said on Monday that operations would continue and the government was preparing a response to the court, to be sent by Friday.
Polish television station TVN24 showed footage of machines felling trees in the Białowieża forest, which has been listed as a Unesco world heritage site.
Greenpeace’s Polish spokesman said: “The felling is continuing, even if it is at a lower intensity.”
On Saturday, a cameraman trying to establish if the felling operations were continuing was assaulted by employees of one of the logging companies, an incident that was condemned on Monday by the authorities.
The EU took Poland to court on 13 July, arguing that the Białowieża operations were destroying a forest that boasts unique plant and animal life, including the continent’s largest mammal, the European bison.
The Polish government said it had authorised the logging, which began in May last year, to contain damage caused by a spruce bark beetle infestation and to fight the risk of forest fires.
But scientists, ecologists and the EU have protested and activists allege the logging is a cover for commercial cutting of protected old-growth forests.
The forest, which straddles Poland’s eastern border with Belarus, includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10,000 years ago.
The Unesco committee overseeing the world heritage sites project has joined the EU in calling on Poland to halt the logging operations.
The commission has said the logging violates the bloc’s wildlife protection laws. Poland’s environment ministry, which declined to comment on the ECJ announcement, says it is needed to protect the forest from an invasion of beetles.
The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has also tripled the quota of wood that can be harvested in Białowieża.
Environmentalists say the vast majority of trees felled so far were not affected by the beetles. They have been holding regular protests to try to halt the logging and Unesco has also appealed to Poland stop cutting down the trees.
“If Polish authorities do not respect the (ECJ) decision, it will be in serious conflict with EU law,” said Agata Szafraniuk, a lawyer at ClientEarth, an environmentalist group.
Poland’s environment minister Jan Szyszko – who enjoys the backing of forester and hunting lobbies – was quoted as saying on Friday that more than one million trees must be cut down in Białowieża this year because of the beetle invasion.
As well as stoking tensions with Brussels, the issue has deeply divided Poles – as have other moves by PiS, including its tightening of control over state media and the courts and its refusal to host any refugees who arrive in the EU.
A local group of nationalist activists in Białowieża has called the environmentalists “green terrorists” and has vowed to confront them, prompting Krzysztof Cibor of Greenpeace to say: “The defenders in the Białowieża forest are vigilant, but we all hope that nothing bad will happen.”
Environmentalists say Szyszko’s real motives are political and economic because increased logging brings more revenues to the local community, one of the poorest in Poland, helping to boost support for PiS.
“Around half of the wood sold was from trees more than 100 years old,” said another green group, Wild Poland Foundation.
Plans several years ago to extend the protected area of the forest ran into stiff local opposition.
Szyszko is a powerful figure in the PiS government because of his close links to the ultra-Catholic broadcasting network of a politically influential priest, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk.
PiS has built an increasingly close alliance with Rydzyk, who encourages his followers to back the party in return for financial grants for his various business projects.
Poland still has several days to react to the ECJ interim decision. Should Poland lose the main case at the ECJ, it could be fined a lump sum of more than €4m and possible daily penalties of up to €300,000 for every day in which Warsaw fails to adhere to the court’s decision.
Europe’s last major parcel of primeval woodland could be set for a reprieve after the EU asked the European court to authorise an immediate ban on logging in Poland’s Białowieża forest.
Around 80,000 cubic metres of forest have been cleared since the Polish government tripled logging operations around the Unesco world heritage site last year.
The European commission said that it had acted because the increased logging of trees over a century-old “poses a major threat to the integrity of this … site.”
EU environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella told the Guardian: “We have asked that Polish authorities cease and desist operations immediately. These actions are clear, practical steps that the European commission has taken to protect one of the last remaining primeval forests in Europe.”
Environmentalists applauded the move, with WWF Poland’s Dariusz Gatkowski calling for the commission “to quickly implement today’s positive decision and take Poland to court, fulfilling its role as guardian of Europe’s natural heritage and the laws that protect it.”
Agata Szafraniuk of the ClientEarth legal firm, said: “Decisive and immediate action is the only way to avoid irreversible damage to this ancient forest. We hope that the court of justice will impose the ban on logging, as a matter of urgency, before breaking for the summer holiday, which starts on July 21st.”
But quick compliance from the Polish government is thought unlikely, after the country’s environment ministry tweeted that it was “delighted” at the prospect of a court case yesterday. A second tweet said: “We have hard data on the #Buszowska (Białowieża) forest and we will be pleased to present it before the tribunal.”
Campaigners trying to block the Białowieża logging say that armed foresters in camouflage units are now routinely stopping and searching young people in the area after a spate of lock-ins around tree-clearing machines.
Ariel Brunner, the senior policy chief for BirdLife Europe said: “The tragedy of Białowieża is more than just the devastation of nature, it is the spine-chilling destruction of memory and an affront to democracy and legality. In taking a clear and strong stance on the ecological destruction of Białowieża, the European commission has today shown its ‘heart of oak’.”
Countries with responsibility over world heritage-listed coral reefs should adopt ambitious climate change targets, aiming to cut greenhouse gas emissions to levels that would keep global temperature increases to just 1.5C, the UN agency responsible for overseeing world heritage sites has said.
At a meeting of Unesco’s world heritage committee in Kraków, Poland, a decision was adopted that clarified and strengthened the responsibility of countries that have custodianship over world-heritage listed coral reefs.
Until now, most countries have interpreted their responsibility over such reefs as implying they need to protect them from local threats such as water pollution and overfishing.
But between 2014 and 2017, reefs in every major reef region bleached, with much of the coral dying, in the worst global bleaching event in recorded history. Over those three years, 21 of the 29 listed sites suffered severe or repeated heat stress.
Last month Unesco published the first global assessment of climate change’s impacts on world heritage-listed reefs and it concluded that local efforts were “no longer sufficient” – concluding the only hope was to keep global temperature increases below 1.5C.
The new decision builds on that assessment, clarifying the responsibility of countries with custodianship over world-heritage listed coral reefs.
The decision adopted by the world heritage committee said it “reiterates the importance of state parties undertaking the most ambitious implementation of the Paris agreement”, which it noted meant pursuing efforts to limit global average temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
It went on that it “strongly invites all state parties … to undertake actions to address climate change under the Paris agreement that are fully consistent with their obligations within the world heritage convention to protect the [outstanding universal values] of all world heritage properties”.
The decision appeared to implement the earlier finding that local efforts were insufficient to protect reefs, and indicated the committee considered that countries were obliged under the world heritage convention to undertake strong action on climate change.
But some countries with coral reefs are not contributing their fair share to even that level of ambition.
Australia, which has responsibility over the world’s largest coral reef system – the Great Barrier Reef – has climate change targets consistent with between 3C and 4C of warming by 2100, according to Climate Action Tracker.
Moreover, Australia doesn’t have any policies in place that will help it achieve those targets, with official government projections showing emissions are not expected to be cut at all, and instead will rise for at least decades to come.
Despite acknowledging Australia’s progress in addressing water quality on the reef, and deciding not to put the reef on its “in-danger” list, Unesco noted that climate change was the most serious threat to it, and said there was the need to consider how bleaching was affecting the effectiveness of the country’s plan to protect it.
“Last week the Australian government bragged that the Great Barrier Reef was not put on the in-danger list at this meeting,” said Imogen Zethoven from the Australian Marine Conservation Society, who was at the world heritage committee meeting in Poland.
“However, this week the Australian government should be worried. It knows very well that it is still on probation with the world heritage committee. This decision means Australia needs to rapidly reduce carbon pollution and reject new coalmines – otherwise our reef is at great risk of being placed on the world heritage in-danger list in 2020.
“The Australian government must now, more than ever, rule out any new coalmines and urgently develop a climate policy that will protect our global icon. It must do its fair share of the global effort to reduce pollution.
“If it doesn’t, the world heritage committee should hold Australia to account for failing to tackle the single greatest threat to our Great Barrier Reef – and for putting all other world heritage coral reefs at risk.”
An Earthjustice attorney, Noni Austin, who also attended the world heritage committee meeting, said: “The world heritage committee’s decision has confirmed what scientists have been saying for years: urgent and rapid action to reduce global warming and implement the Paris agreement is essential for the survival of coral reefs into the future.”
A taunting peal of thunder rings out overhead as Diego García de la Peña studies one of his ponds and wonders whether its water will see his cattle through until October.
The 65-year-old farmer – a former bullfighter who quotes Federico García Lorca and whose ancestors were among the legions of steely Extremadurans who bent the New World to their will – is a worried man.
The source of García de la Peña’s anxiety is imprinted on the landscape of his 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) ranch. Its pastures are dry and pale brown, their grasses short and brittle, and the water level in its 10 ponds is a metre lower than it would be in a good year.
But this is not a good year in Extremadura or elsewhere on the Iberian peninsula. Once again, drought has struck, devastating cereal crops, threatening the olive and grape harvest and leaving livestock short of food and water.
“This is an awful year – the worst we’ve had over the past decade – and it’s one of those that costs you a lot of money,” says García de la Peña. “There’s been no rain – and here, everything depends on the spring and autumn rains.”
His 400 cows may need to be given ready-mixed feed for eight or nine months rather than the usual five, and the water situation is another expensive headache. If the ponds run dry, García de la Peña will have to start sinking wells, around 100 metres deep, in his land. The wells cost €35 a metre to dig and then there are the solar-powered pumps to consider. All in all, he could find himself losing €30,000 (£26,347) this year as he tries to ride out the drought.
“I hope I can make it up next year. I hope I won’t go into the red, but it’s a possibility.”
Things in neighbouring, northwestern Castilla y León are worse still. The drought has ravaged the area, which is known as Spain’s granary, cutting the wheat and barley harvest by 50%.
José Roales, who grows wheat, barley, peas, sunflowers, chickpeas, lentils, and alfalfa in the region’s Zamora province, is one of many staring at an alarming balance sheet. “I’ve been harvesting 1,000kg of cereals per hectare,” the farmer says. “In a normal year I’d get 4,000kg per hectare. The thing is that the first 2,500kg goes on covering my costs. That gives you an idea of how things are this year.”
But, says Roales – who is also the cereals chief of the COAG farming association – others are suffering even more. “Given how things are in other bits of Castilla y León, I still consider myself lucky. In Palencia province, 80% of the cereals haven’t been reaped this year. It’s far, far worse.”
According to the Spanish farming association Asaja, the country is suffering from both a lack of rain over the past five or six years and the gradual diminishing and salinisation of water in aquifers and wells near the coast, which makes irrigation difficult. With the Duero, Segura and Júcar river basins already officially declared to be in drought and some areas seeing 75% less rainfall this year, the focus is now turning to how the drought could affect olives, almonds, pistachios and walnuts.
“All those are tree crops; they have well-established roots that will seek out water deep in the ground, so it will take longer to see how the drought affects them,” says a technical spokesman for Asaja. “It’s going to be a really, really tough year. But we won’t know just how tough until the autumn.”
By then, the drought’s effect on Spain’s vineyards should also be apparent. José Joaquín Vizcaíno, COAG’s representative for the wine-producing sector, says that, while dry years and heat in June can improve grape quality, a prolonged dry spell would be unwelcome. “If this heat continues into August and night-time temperatures are above 20C, ripening will be difficult,” he says.
Vizcaíno believes the high temperatures and lack of rain will see more vineyards turning to irrigation. “The kind of climate change we are seeing year-to-year means that areas in the south, where the rains are shorter, are going to need more irrigation as a back-up during some times of the year, or years when it’s very dry,” he says. “The proportion of irrigated vineyards has grown, and it’s past 40%, nearly at 50%.”
Roales, too, sees the evident and unwelcome hand of climate change at work in his fields. “Older people – say, those over 80 – tell us that 30 years ago winters were harder; it was colder and there was more rain, snow and frost. But as the years have gone by, they’ve grown milder. Where we used to have four seasons, we now have only two: we’re seeing spring and autumn disappear.”
García de la Peña has little choice but to keep on with his cows and the few bulls he raises for the ring. Despite the treacherous climate and the expense of cattle farming, he is ineluctably bound to his land.
“You can put money into a farm until you’re totally and utterly ruined: there are wells to sink and fences and paths to mend. But at the end of the day it’s my life, and I wouldn’t know how to do anything else anyway.
“Maybe if I was 20 I’d be able to change things, but not now. Back when I was fighting bulls, I’d spend all night driving from Nîmes so that I could get back to look after my cows. If you are from the country, you’re from the country.”
The day that the old bullfighter takes off his brown leather riding boots will be the day that he dies. “Maybe we’re the last Romantics,” he says. “I can’t abandon the pastures; they have to carry on being pastures. What would Extremadura be without them?”