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One Third Of The World’s Food Wasted Every Year, UN Study Says

Big takeout food meals

About one third of food produced worldwide every year goes to waste or gets lost, according to a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation study. That amounts to a massive 1.3 billion tons or food.

The study found that every year, people in wealthy, industrialized countries waste almost as much food as the whole net food production of sub-Saharan Africa. However, overall food loss was about the same in industrialized and developing countries.

Fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers were found to have the highest wastage rates, and the amount of food wasted each year was found to be equivalent to half the world’s annual cereals crop.

The study distinguishes between food waste and food loss, which occurs at the production, harvest, post-harvest and processing phases. Food loss is most prevalent in developing countries because of the lack of infrastructure, low technology and low levels of investment. In industrialized countries more than 40 percent of losses occur at the retail and post-purchase levels.

In industrialized countries, food waste is mostly caused by retailers and food buyers throwing away edible food. Per capita food waste was found to be between 95 (209 pounds) and 115 kilograms (253 pounds) a year in Europe and North America, while people in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia throw away 6 to 11 kilograms  (13.2 to 24.2 pounds) of edible food per year.

Solutions to food loss and food waste

The report has offered some suggestions on how not to lose and waste so much food.

In developing countries the suggestions are to attempt to strengthen supply chains by helping small farmers to connect directly with buyers. In addition, private and public sector investment in infrastructure, transport, processing and packaging would be useful.

In wealthier countries, large amounts of food are wasted due to quality standards the over-emphasize appearance, so this would have to change.  Another suggestion is to sell farm produce closer to where it is grown, such as farmers’ markets, without having to conform to supermarket quality standards.

The report found that people in wealthy countries are encouraged to buy more food than they require. Oversized ready-made meals, and buffet-style restaurant meals are examples of this.

Additionally, people often don’t plan their meals sufficiently, so “best before” dates often expire before the food is eaten and it’s thrown away.

The report suggests that education programs in schools and elsewhere could help to change behaviors and attitudes to throwing away perfectly edible food.  Education could also help to show that reducing food loss and waste is much more effective than needlessly increasing global food production.

Image CC licensed by permanently scatterbrained

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