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November 20, 2020

Food loss and waste

Opinion

November 20, 2020

Today, in a world where food worth more than $1 trillion is lost or wasted every year, more than 800 million people are hungry. And the Covid-19 pandemic has only made the problem worse. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), one-third of food produced for human consumption worldwide is annually lost or wasted along the chain that stretches from farms to processing plants, marketplaces, retailers, food-service operations, and our households. And there are many factors that contribute to food loss including limitations on crop production and other resource-saving agricultural techniques, inadequate transport and storage infrastructures, changing climate and excess purchases and portions.

Surprisingly, the proportion of food produced but not consumed within developing and developed nations are similar. However, the reasons for food waste in developed and developing countries are significantly different.

In developing countries, food waste happens during food production and is mainly due to climate-induced crop failures and inadequate infrastructures to transport food to the market and to store it once it is produced. By contrast, in the developed world, food is wasted mainly due to consumers buying or cooking more food than they need. In addition, according to a 2016 survey by the Harvard Food Law and Policy clinic, many consumers throw away perfectly good food because of confusing expiry date labels.

Despite most of the wastage taking place at the very end of the value chain, developed countries contribute significantly to global food waste. In the US, approximately 36 million tonnes of food – between 30-40 percent of the food supply – is wasted every year. In the UK, households waste 4.5 million tonnes of food each year. In Australia, nearly 7.3 million tonnes of food is wasted.

Associated with food waste are the economic costs that arise from the resources used to produce food. Farmers, for example, use 1.8 billion pounds of nitrogen fertiliser and 1.5 billion pounds of phosphorous fertiliser annually to grow wasted crops while applying more than 750 million pounds of pesticide to protect food that often ends up wasted. According to FAO, “direct economic consequences of food wastage (excluding fish and seafood) run to the tune of $750bn annually”.

All these depressing statistics can lead people to think individual actions would not make a difference. In the fight against food waste, however, everyone’s contribution matters.

So what can individuals, businesses, organisations, and corporations do to stop food waste? In developed countries, where consumers are responsible for most of the waste, every single person can play an important role in turning the tide. Simply by not buying more food than they can eat, consumers in the developed world can help significantly reduce food waste in their countries. Buying locally produced food, which does not face the risk of being spoiled during transport, can also help.

Excerpted: ‘We all have a part to play in the war against food waste’

Aljazeera.com