Residents of Spain’s Canary Islands were shocked to find out that food sent to the archipelago from Spanish and other European authorities to relieve hunger was found discarded in dumpsters. The Canaries lie near the coast of Africa and now has an unemployment rate that has reached 33%, while the number of people living at or below the poverty level has reached 34%. Food prices continue to climb as well.
According to a group that advocates for the rights of the homeless in Spain, boxes full of cheese, flour, soup and juice from the European Union and Spain were found in a rubbish heap in a neighborhood of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the archipelago. This food was intended for the needy in Spain and had been provided to groups such as the Red Cross and food banks for distribution. Eloy Cuadra of the Platform for the Dignity of the Homeless said in a statement that the waste is “unforgiveable.” Cuadra said that that the management of food distribution is evidently “out of control.”
Cuadra explained that his group had received a tip that in the García Escámez neighborhood, a nonprofit association had thrown away a significant amount of food. Found in the trash were boxes of cheese with 2013 expiration dates, along with flour that had expired in October 2012. Also found were boxes of fruit juice and soup. The food containers bore identifying labels of the EU and the Spanish government. “Neither the municipal laws nor national regulations are being followed,” said Cuadra, who added that local police were made aware of the waste and have made a report. Among the reasons for discarding the food is that the food banks and other philanthropic organizations involved do not have adequate refrigeration.
The spokesman for Dignity said “This is not a reason to cast blame on neighborhood associations and others who don’t have refrigeration nor adequate training to make proper distribution, but instead that the government should have a leading role in the matter.” He noted that the distribution of food should not be left entirely in the hands of nonprofit organizations. However, Hernán Cerón of the Tenerife Food Bank – which has been partially blamed for food waste – claims that every one of the 127 organizations in food distribution do indeed have adequate resources for food storate. According to Spanish media, he said that these institutions do not have refrigeration since they are only given nonperishable food. It is soup kitchens, said Cerón, that do use and distribute perishable food. Cerón believes that the waste discovered by Dignity is an isolated case.
For its part, the Red Cross has stated that it is carrying out an investigation to determine whether any of the food administered by that organization ended up in the rubbish heap in question.
Dignity points out that there have been other recent cases of food that has gone to waste or that has been re-directed, possibly due to corruption. The organization has pointed out that hundreds of pounds of rice provided by the EU, with 2014 expiration dates, have ended up on the black market and turned into dog food. Dignity pointed out the irony that even while there seems to be a surfeit of food available, the poor and their families are being “subjected to the indignity of having to attend lectures on self-esteem as a necessary precondition of receiving a few bags of food paid for by Europe.”
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.