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Global Campaign Aims to Cut 1.3 Billion Tons of Wasted, Lost Food

  • Lisa Schlein

Cucumbers, two for 1 Euro ( $1.40) , are displayed for sale between other vegetables outside a supermarket in Berlin, Germany, May 30, 2011.

Cucumbers, two for 1 Euro ( $1.40) , are displayed for sale between other vegetables outside a supermarket in Berlin, Germany, May 30, 2011.

A new global campaign aims to feed the world’s hungry by cutting the 1.3 billion tons of food lost or wasted each year. The so-called “Think. Eat. Save” campaign, spearheaded by the United Nations Environment Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), specifically targets food wasted by consumers, retailers and the hospitality industry.

The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates 1.3 billion tons (or about one-third of all food produced worldwide) are lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. The financial loss is also huge. The FAO says this lost and wasted food is worth around $1 trillion.

The FAO says food loss occurs mostly at the production stages - that is during the harvesting, processing and distribution phases. It notes food waste typically takes place at the retail and consumer end of the supply chain.

The director of the FAO Liaison Office in Geneva, Ann Tutwiler, says about half of the food that is wasted in rich industrialized countries is lost because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is perfectly fit for consumption.

“If you take all of the food that is wasted in the industrialized world, it amounts to more than the total net production of food in Africa," she said. "In the developing countries, about 95 percent of the food is actually lost before it even gets to the consumer. These are unintentional losses because of lack of storage facilities, for example, lack of cooling facilities, lack of transportation and processing and many other problems within those food supply chains.”

Campaigners say the global food system also has profound implications for the environment. They note producing more food than is consumed exacerbates pressures on both land and water resources.

For example, they say more than 20 percent of all cultivated land, 30 percent of forests, and 10 percent of grasslands are undergoing degradation. They note overfishing and poor management contribute to declining numbers of fish. They say some 30 percent of marine fish stocks are now considered overexploited.

The executive secretary of the U.N. Environment Program, Achim Steiner, says the problem of food waste is becoming more dramatic. He calls this phenomenon irrational.

“Irrational in terms of the household," said Steiner. "Irrational in terms of the future of our food security. Irrational in terms of, for example, carbon emissions and climate change. Imagine how much fuel and energy is expended for instance in cultivating one hectare to grow one hectare of wheat or maize or other staple food crops - the carbon emissions, the amount of energy and money that is expended on that.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 870 million hungry people in the world could be fed with one-quarter of the food now being wasted.

Campaigners say some actions consumers can take to stop food waste include meal planning and shopping smart, buying fruits and vegetables that may not look so good, but are perfectly fine to eat, freezing food and eating leftovers.

They say retailers can carry out waste audits. Restaurants, bars and hotels, they add, can limit menu choices and introduce flexible portions. And, using a bag to carry home leftovers ((known as the doggie bag ) can also be a great way to save food.