Around a third of the food produced globally for human consumption is wasted or lost – a whopping 1.3 billion tonnes of it. In developed nations manufacturers and food retailers waste large quantities due to inefficient practices and quality requirements that over-emphasize appearance, while consumers throw away edible food because of over-buying, inappropriate storage, confusion over labelling – particularly concerning ‘best-before’ dates – and preparing meals that are too large. It’s a common problem: across Europe, North America and Oceania each consumer wastes 95–115 kilos of perfectly good food every year.
But food is also wasted in developing countries. The consumers themselves waste much less – on average just 6–11 kilos each per year – but much more waste occurs between the field, the food processors and the retail outlets due to lack of infrastructure, technology or coordination.
It isn’t just about squandering calories and nutrition. It’s also a waste of the precious freshwater needed to grow crops: agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of our freshwater use. It’s also a waste of the chemicals used for pest control and fertilization (not to mention any negative effects these may have on the natural world), a waste of fuel used to transport and preserve food on its way to our tables, and a waste of the labour of those who produce and sell our food. And food discarded in landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas, contributing to global warming.
A new protocol
At a time when human population is growing exponentially and a third of the world’s population faces starvation daily – according to UNICEF, 2 million children die of hunger every year – how can we square the amount we waste with the need to feed the hungry?
“If we reduce food loss and waste to zero it would give us enough additional food to feed 2 billion people,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, who is calling for a new global protocol to measure and cut global food loss and waste.
But the question remains: how do we get the food currently being wasted in fridge and field to the mouths of the hungry?