F.A.O. decries food waste

by Jeff Gelski
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ROME — About 1.3 billion tonnes, or roughly one third of food produced in the world for human consumption every year, gets lost or wasted, according to a study commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The F.A.O. commissioned “Global Food Losses and Food Waste” from the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology for Save Food!, an international congress scheduled for May 16-17 in Dusseldorf, Germany, at interpack 2011, a trade fair of the international packaging industry.

The report explained the differences between food loss, which occurs at the production, harvest, post-harvest and processing phases, and food waste, which most often is caused by both retailers and consumers throwing edible foodstuffs into the trash. The report offered suggestions on how to reduce loss and waste.

The study found industrialized countries dissipate 607 million tonnes of food, roughly the same quantity (630 million tonnes) as developing countries. Consumers in rich countries every year waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes). Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers, have the highest waste rates of any food. The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop, which was 2.3 billion tonnes in 2009-10.

Food loss and food waste amount to a squandering of water, land, energy, labor and capital while they also produce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change, the report said.
Developing countries have more of a problem with food loss because of poor infrastructure, low levels of technology and low investment in food production systems. In developing countries, 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels.

Reducing losses might have an “immediate and significant” impact on the livelihoods and food security of small farmers and poor consumers, the report said. It said assistance is needed to link small farmers directly to buyers. The private and public sectors also should invest more in infrastructure, transportation and in processing and packaging.

Industrialized countries have more of a problem with food waste. Per capita waste by consumers in Europe and North America is between 95 kilograms (209 lbs) and 115 kilograms (253 lbs), which compares to between 6 kilograms and 11 kilograms in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and southeast Asia. In industrialized countries, more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels.

Ways to reduce food waste, according to the report, include consumers buying produce that is safe even though it may not meet some appearance standards, farmers’ markets and farm shops selling farm produce closer to consumers, and commercial and charity organizations working with retailers to collect and then sell or use products that otherwise would have been trashed.

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