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Over a Billion Tons of Food Wasted Annually

  • Joe DeCapua

A CropMobster gleaning, collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields to avoid food waste. (Photo by Gary Cedar)

A CropMobster gleaning, collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields to avoid food waste. (Photo by Gary Cedar)

A new study says one-point-three billion tons of food are wasted or lost every year, causing significant harm to both the environment and the economy. The food losses occur as an estimated 870 million people go hungry every day.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says it has released the first study to “analyze the impacts of global food wastage from an environmental perspective.”

The report differentiates between food loss and food waste. Food loss is due to such things as poor harvesting, inadequate storage and transportation. It’s more of a supply side issue. Food waste, meanwhile, comes on the demand-side during processing, distribution and consumption.

FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said, “Every day, consumers, especially in the rich countries, waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa. The implication of this massive food waste for food security and sustainability is huge. If we reduce food loss and waste, we have more food available without the need to produce more and putting less pressure on natural resources.”

The report – Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources – says the amount of food that is produced, but not eaten, “guzzles up a volume of water equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River.” That unconsumed food, it says, is also responsible for three-point-three billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Developing countries suffer more food losses during agriculture production. But in high income regions, food waste at the retail and consumer level tends to be higher. Up to 40 percent of total wastage compared with only four to 16 percent in low income regions,” he said.

Graziano da Silva added there’s also the economic cost.

“The food wastage means $750 billion every year. This impressive figure is the equivalent of the GDP of Switzerland.”

Joining in the release of the new report is Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP, the U.N. Environment Program. He called the $750 billion figure “an extraordinary wake-up call” for those thinking about food security and agriculture.

“In that figure we may not even capture many of the more indirect impacts that are associated with degradation of natural resources. The impacts on climate change. The drivers that will cost perhaps not today’s consumers of food, but tomorrow’s children and grandchildren, who have to run our economies and mange these impacts in ways that are economically not yet fully captured,” said Steiner.

He emphasized the losses and waste do not only occur on land.

“We again have phenomena where in many fishing fleets – sometimes 20, 30, 50–percent of the catch is thrown back into the sea. But it is not as if fish will happily continue to swim. Many of them will be dead and essentially no longer available either for consumption or indeed for maintaining the fish stocks of the world. So, we are really trying to address a phenomenon here today that concerns each and every one of us on the planet,” he said.

He said the types of food being raised to meet the demands of growing economies are having a greater impact on the environment. More countries are adopting a Western style diet that’s high in meat consumption. Livestock produce a lot of greenhouse gasses.

“Our initiative with thinkeatsave.org is to reach out to literally citizens across all countries, all continents, in all sectors, to become part of addressing this phenomenon of wastage that simply is unnecessary, unacceptable and unsustainable in the 21st Century. We are all able to address this issue by becoming part of the solution,” said Steiner.

Recommendations to reduce food loss and waste include raising awareness about the problems through media campaigns – coordinating international initiatives and strategies – and investing in public and private projects that reduce loss along the food chain from field to market to consumer.
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