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Report: Up to Half of World Food Production is Wasted

  • Henry Ridgwell

Up to half of the food the world produces goes to waste, according to a new report. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Britain says cutting waste is vital if the world is to meet food demand as the global population soars.
In a barn hundreds of meters long, thousands of chickens are producing eggs on an industrial scale. Conveyor belts take the eggs directly to the packing area. From this farm in eastern France, they are taken across Europe.
Every year the world produces around four billion tons of food. And between a third and half of it goes to waste, according to the report from the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
The group says that in Southeast Asian countries for example, losses of rice can range from 37% to 80% of total production. Much of this can be traced to how it is harvested, stored and transported, says report co-author Colin Brown.
“[Food] is trying to rot all the time, so you’ve got to keep it dry, you’ve got to keep it cool and you’ve got to transport it and use it as quickly as possible. So I think when you haven’t got the infrastructure, you haven’t got the railways, you haven’t got the shipping, you’re doing damage to it every time you move it," he said.
In developed economies such as in Europe and the United States, the report says more efficient farming practices ensure that more of the food produced reaches consumers. But it claims millions of tons of food is thrown away because it’s past its sell-by date, or sometimes because it doesn’t reach the supermarket shelves at all.
“Certainly once you get it to the supermarket, they have very high standards about what it ought to look like, never mind about how it ought to taste or whether it’s edible or valuable. But exactly how it ought to look. And so we throw a lot away just because it’s not cosmetically attractive," he said.
That’s not the fault of the stores, says Richard Dodd of the British Retail Consortium, which represents supermarkets.
“In fact, these are EU marketing rules and the retailers have been at the forefront of pushing for a relaxation in them. And that has happened. Back in 2009, 26 different items of produce were taken off those lists," he said.
Many aid agencies and charities welcomed the report for highlighting the huge amount of waste at a time when millions of people suffer from malnutrition.
Aid agency Save the Children says there is enough food in the world to feed every child - but still 2.3 million children die as a result of hunger every year.

Director of Policy Brendan Cox said, “Families are having to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their children and nobody should have to make that choice."
Large amounts of land, energy, fertilizers and water are also lost in the production of food which simply end up as waste, according to the report authors. But they say there is another message in the figures.
“The very positive message here is that while we’re losing so much in waste, the population growth and the demand for food across the world - we can meet it if we just reduce the waste. We don’t need to cut down lots more forests and plant a lot more crops," he said.
And with the global population predicted to peak at 9.5 billion people by 2075, the report concludes that reducing wastage must be part of the plan to meet that demand.

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