One-Third of World’s Food Goes to Waste

Wasted food, Penang, Malaysia (Photo by Chee S.)


ROME, Italy, September 12, 2013 (ENS) – One-third of all the world’s food is wasted every year at enormous economic and environmental cost, finds a United Nations report released Wednesday.

The report, “Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources,” is the first study to analyze the impacts of global food wastage from an environmental perspective, looking at its consequences for the climate, water and land use, and biodiversity.

Wasted food, Penang, Malaysia  (Photo by Chee S.)
Wasted food, Penang, Malaysia (Photo by Chee S.)

The waste of 1.3 billion tons of food each year is damaging to the environment and causes economic losses of US$750 billion a year, according to the report.

The researchers found that food produced but not eaten each year guzzles up a volume of water equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River

The production of this uneaten food is responsible for adding 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

“All of us – farmers and fishers; food processors and supermarkets; local and national governments; individual consumers – must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can’t,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, the UN agency that produced the report.

“We simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go to waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices, when 870 million people go hungry every day,” he said.

This food wastage represents not only a missed opportunity to improve global food security, but also to mitigate environmental impacts and resources use from food chains, the report states.

Although there is today a wide recognition of the major environmental implications of food production, no study has yet analysed the impacts of global food wastage from an environmental perspective.

Produced but uneaten food occupies almost 1.4 billion hectares of land; according to the report this represents 28 percent of the world’s agricultural land area.

Rice fields near Chiang Mai,Thailand (Photo credit unknown)
Rice fields near Chiang Mai,Thailand (Photo credit unknown)

“While it is difficult to estimate impacts on biodiversity at a global level, food wastage unduly compounds the negative externalities that monocropping and agriculture expansion into wild areas create on biodiversity loss, including mammals, birds, fish and amphibians,” the report concludes.

Beyond the environmental impacts, food wastage costs some $750 billion annually to food producers.

The report points out specific features of food waste according to regions. Cereal waste, particularly waste of rice, is a big problem in Asia, with major impacts on carbon emissions as well as water and land use.

Fruit wastage contributes to water waste in Asia, Latin America, and Europe, while large volumes of vegetable wastage in industrialized Asia, Europe, and South and South East Asia translates into a large carbon footprint for that sector.

Excluding Latin America, high-income regions are responsible for about 67 percent of all meat waste.

As a companion to its report, the Food and Agriculture Organization has also published a comprehensive tool-kit with recommendations on how food loss and waste can be reduced at every stage of the food chain. The tool-kit gives examples of projects around the world that show how national and local governments, farmers, businesses, and individual consumers can take steps to tackle the problem.

Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme Achim Steiner said, “Today’s excellent report by FAO underlines the multiple benefits that can be realized – in many cases through simple and thoughtful measures by for example households, retailers, restaurants, schools and businesses – that can contribute to environmental sustainability, economic improvements, food security and the realization of the UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Challenge.”

Steiner urged all countries to join the UN’s campaign to stem food waste, Think Eat Save – Reduce Your Foodprint!

Two of the thousands of people who enjoyed free food at the Damn Food Waste event in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, June 2013 (Photo by Damn Food Waste)

There are other organizations working to reduce the amount of edible food that is thrown in the landfill.

In June members of the Youth Food Movement Netherlands headed out to fields around Amsterdam to glean tons of vegetables left behind after the harvest because they were too small, irregularly shaped or slightly blemished. They offered this food in a free lunch for 5,000 people – a public action to urge everyone to help stop wasteful food practices – from farms to distribution networks and from company boardrooms to home kitchens.

Volunteers met at the Amsterdam Food Bank to wash, peel, and chop more than half a ton of the gleaned vegetables; then they served huge pots of soup and curry in a prominent city square for six hours, with DJs to entertain the crowds.

Of the annual 4.4 billion euros of food wasted in the Netherlands, more than half is thrown away by Dutch consumers – around 110 pounds per person per year. This is equivalent to around 100,000 garbage truck loads of edible food going to waste. Now, the Dutch government aims to achieve a 20 percent decrease in food waste by 2015 and the European Union as a whole wants to see a 50 percent decrease of food waste by 2025.

The event was organized by Damn Food Waste, an initiative of Youth Food Movement, with FoodGuerrilla, Voedingscentrum, Wageningen UR, Natuur & Milieu and Feeding the 5000/EU Fusions.

The Amsterdam event is linked to the worldwide campaign against food waste, Feeding the 5000, initiated by Tristram Stuart, author of the 2009 book “Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

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