A Journal of People report
A fifth of the world’s food stock is lost to waste and over-eating, finds a study.
Persons over-eating consume 10 per cent more than they need while nearly nine per cent is thrown away or left to spoil.
The wasted food could feed the one billion malnourished human beings around the globe. Encouraging people to eat less meat and dairy, stop waste and not exceed nutritional needs could help to reverse these trends.
Study leader Dr Peter Alexander, of Edinburgh University, said: “Reducing losses from the global food system would improve food security and help prevent environmental harm.“Until now it was not known how over eating impacts on the system.
“Not only is it harmful to health – we found over-eating is bad for the environment and impairs food security.”
“We need to look at what kinds of food we eat.
“Meat and animal products, for instance, are inefficient ways of producing calories because you need other foods to make them.
“We are not saying everyone should become vegan but thinking about our diet is a different way of looking at how we can all help in some small way – otherwise the world is going to get into serious difficulty.”
Dr Alexander’s colleague Professor Dominic Moran, of York University, said:
“This study highlights food security has production and consumption dimensions that need to be considered when designing sustainable food systems.
“It also highlights the definition of waste can mean different things to different people.”
Efforts to reduce these billions of tonnes could improve global food security – ensuring everyone has access to a safe, affordable, nutritious diet while preventing environmental damage.
The researchers analyzed ten key stages in the global food system – including food consumption and the growing and harvesting of crops – to quantify the extent of losses.
Using data collected primarily by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation they found more food is lost from the system than was previously feared.
Almost half of harvested crops – or 2.1 billion tonnes – are lost through over-consumption, consumer waste and inefficiencies in production processes.
Livestock production is the least efficient process with losses of 78 per cent – or 840 million tonnes.
Some 1.08 billion tonnes of harvested crops are used to produce 240 million tonnes of edible animal products including meat, milk and eggs.
This stage alone accounts for 40 per cent of all losses of harvested crops, said the researchers.
Increased demand for some foods – particularly meat and dairy products – would decrease the efficiency of the food system and could make it difficult to feed the world’s expanding population in sustainable ways.
Meeting this demand could cause environmental harm by increasing greenhouse gas emissions, depleting water supplies and causing loss of biodiversity.
In 2015, a UN report found if the amount of food wasted was reduced by only 25 per cent there would be enough to feed all the people who are malnourished.
In 2011, 1.3 billion tonnes of food, or about one third of all the food produced globally, was lost or wasted annually, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. In developed countries, the average person wastes about 100 kilograms of food every year.
“Some of the food is lost during the production stage to pests, some is lost during harvesting, some is lost during processing, some is lost in storage. But a considerable amount is lost in people’s homes,” explained Tim Benton, a professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds.
“In the U.K., we end up throwing away 20 to 30 per cent of the food that we buy. And when you add it all up, it’s quite frightening,” he said. “The waste that we throw away in Europe and North America is about equal to all of the food that sub-Saharan Africa produces.”
Well-publicised attempts to combat the loss – such as laws in France that require supermarkets to distribute unsold food to charities – have highlighted the issue identified by the UN as one of the great challenges to achieving food security.
Estimates suggest by 2050 food production will need to have increased by 60 per cent on 2005 levels to feed a growing global population.
In developing countries there are high levels of unintentional wastage – often due to poor equipment, transportation and infrastructure.
In wealthy countries there are high levels of “food waste” which involves food being thrown away by consumers because they have purchased too much or by retailers who reject food because of exacting aesthetic standards.
The study published in the journal Agricultural Systems was funded through a Global Food Security Programme supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council and the Scottish Government.
An April 10, 2014 datelined report by The Guardian said:
“The UK wastes 15m tonnes of food every year, according to a report (Counting the Cost of Food Waste: EU Food Waste Prevention) published this week. This has serious economic and environmental implications. “Annually food waste costs UK business at least £5bn, and worldwide, the carbon footprint of food waste is twice that of road transport in the US.
“Baroness Scott, chair of the House of Lords committee that produced the report, condemns this state of affairs as ‘morally repugnant’. When consumers in the developed world waste nearly as much food as sub-Saharan Africa produces, few could disagree.
“The report is refreshing in not laying responsibility for the global issues of food waste squarely on householders’ doorsteps. Where statistics suggest that 42% of food waste in the EU can be attributed to consumers, the report draws attention to the ways in which retailers – who are directly responsible for just 5% – pass waste “from the store to the household” through the way in which food is sold. Distinguishing between the causes of waste and the location where it occurs is crucial.
“But it’s disappointing the debate about the interface of households and retailers is limited to a narrow and predictable focus on promotions – such as ‘buy one, get one free’ offers (Bogofs) – and date labelling. This falls into the trap of seeing food waste primarily as a consequence of individual decision-making.”
The Guardian report by David Evans and Daniel Welch said:
“To make matters worse, there exists an imperative to cook and eat ‘properly’, and this is commonly understood as a matter of cooking from scratch using a variety of fresh ingredients. But the rhythms of everyday life – whether for working parents or single young professionals – are often mismatched with the timeframes in which broccoli wilts and tomatoes go wrinkly.
“The family meal is a cultural ideal that many of us consider a good thing. However, ensuring the family eats together and eats ‘properly’ – a responsibility usually falling on women – means both the continuous effort to push suitable meals on unwilling partners and kids and having to buy ‘fail safe’ ingredients as back up. Negotiating these conflicting imperatives can often lead to food waste.”