By Caroline Scott-Thomas
About one-third of the food produced globally for human consumption each year is wasted, according to a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The report , Global Food Losses and Food Waste, is based on research from the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology. It found that wastage in production and storage often translates to lost income for small farmers in particular, and higher prices for poor consumers, adding that reducing losses could have an ‘immediate and significant’ impact on livelihoods.
The FAO found that about 1.3bn tonnes of food is wasted somewhere along the supply chain each year, with wealthier consumers in North America and Europe wasting nearly twice as much as those in poorer countries. Consumers in richer countries throw away about 222m tonnes of food each year, most of it fruit and vegetables, and nearly as much as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa, at 230m tonnes.
However, industrialized and developing countries tend to waste about the same amount of food on an absolute basis, the report found – 670m tonnes a year and 630m tonnes a year respectively. While most food wastage in richer nations occurs on a consumer level, in developing countries about 40 percent of wastage happens at the post-harvest or processing level due to poor infrastructure and lack of investment in food production systems – a problem the report terms ‘food loss’.
“Food waste is more a problem in industrialized countries, most often caused by both retailers and consumers throwing perfectly edible foodstuffs into the trash,” the FAO said. “Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia each throw away only 6-11 kg a year.”
In order to tackle the issue, the report suggested that major food retailers in industrialized nations should work with commercial and charitable organizations to redistribute food that may be past its best, but is still acceptable in terms of safety, taste and nutritional value.
In addition, it also said that retail standards over-emphasize appearance, and customers have the ability to influence quality standards. Consumers should be better educated about the impacts of food wastage and taught that throwing away food is unacceptable, the report said.
“Food loss and waste amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labor and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change,” it said.
For developing countries, the report suggested that the emphasis should be on strengthening processing, packaging and transportation infrastructure, and creating better links between small farmers and buyers.