Over a third of the world’s food wasted

Every year, almost one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption – approximately 1.3 billion tons – is lost or wasted, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said this week.

The Rome-based FAO cited the findings of a report: Global Food Losses and Food Waste, which it commissioned from the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology for Save Food!, an international congress being held in Dusseldorf May 16-17.

The study also found that industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food – respectively 670 and 630 million tons.

The report distinguished between what it called “food loss” and “food waste”.

It found that food losses – occurring at the production, harvest, post-harvest and processing phases – are most important in developing countries, due to poor infrastructure, low levels of technology and low investment in the food production systems.

In contrast, food waste is more a problem in industrialised countries, most often caused by both retailers and consumers throwing perfectly edible foodstuffs into the trash.

Per capita waste by consumers is 95-115 kilograms a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia each throw away only 6-11 kilograms a year.

Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food – 222 million tons – as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa of 230 million tons, according to the report.

Fruit and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.

The report offered a number of suggestions on how to reduce losses and waste, including the need for developing countries to assist small-scale farmers to link up directly to buyers.

The private and public sectors should also invest more in infrastructure, transportation and in processing and packaging.

In middle- and high-income countries, food losses and waste stem largely from the tendency to “over-emphasise appearance” of products such as fruit and vegetables.

The report cited surveys showing that consumers are willing to buy produce that does not meet appearance standards, as long as it is safe and tastes good.

“Customers thus have the power to influence quality standards and should do so,” the report said.

Consumers in rich countries are also generally encouraged to buy more food than they need, including “buy three, pay two” promotions and in restaurants that offer fixed-price buffets that spur customers to heap their plates, the report said.

Education in schools and political initiatives are possible starting points to changing consumer attitudes, the report suggested.

“Rich-country consumers should be taught that throwing food away needlessly is unacceptable,” FAO said.