The tragedy of wasted food

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Millions of people around the world go hungry every day, and yet as much as half of all food produced goes to waste. That conclusion comes from a new report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers titled “Global food: Waste not, want not.”

The authors note the issue will become even more critical as the global population grows toward an estimated 9.5 billion by 2075, placing a severe strain on land, energy, water and other resources.

The report documents several causes of food waste, with each requiring different sets of solutions. In less-developed countries, the losses tend to occur early in the production chain, with inefficient harvesting, inadequate storage and poor infrastructure and transportation for agricultural commodities. As the level of development in countries increases, the waste tends to occur further down the chain, and the report cites issues such as overly strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one free offers and consumers demanding cosmetically perfect food. Up to half of the food that’s bought in Europe and the USA is thrown away by consumer.
Even in developed countries, unnecessary waste can occur on farms. As much as 30 percent of UK vegetable crops, for example, are not harvested because they fail to meet exacting standards based on their physical appearance.

Demand for water for food production could more than triple by 2050, the authors note, and today about 550 billion cubic meters of water goes to crops that never will reach consumers.

The authors offer three recommendations, which they say potentially could provide 60 to 100 percent more food by eliminating losses and waste while at the same time freeing up land, energy and water resources.

  1.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) works with the international engineering community to ensure governments of developed nations put in place programs that transfer engineering knowledge, design know-how, and suitable technology to newly developing countries. This will help improve produce handling in the harvest, and immediate post-harvest stages of food production.
  2. Governments of rapidly developing countries incorporate waste minimization thinking into the transport infrastructure and storage facilities currently being planned, engineered and built.
  3. Governments in developed nations devise and implement policy that changes consumer expectations. These should discourage retailers from wasteful practices that lead to the rejection of food on the basis of cosmetic characteristics, and losses in the home due to excessive purchasing by consumers.

Read the full report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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shaun evertson    
Nebraska  |  January, 14, 2013 at 09:38 AM

Let's not drink the latest food fad kool-aid here. Hunger is not caused by production shortfalls. Where ever people can't access food, the cause is political and/or socioeconomic. Food is organic, none of it is really wasted -- at least not in the sense of being gone for good. It returns to the biosphere where it can become new food. This whole food wasting fad is simply the latest scare tactic dreamed up by dozens of anti or activists groups to pressure governments to "spread the wealth around", i.e., give money to poor governments. Those poor governments have been receiving money for years. A few individuals get rich, the rest go hungry. The US has been exporting an amazing quantity of production and engineering technology, knowledge and equipment since the end of WWII (1945). Don't let the UN, the present US redistributionist regime, and the leftist press make you hang your head in worry and guilt. Americans have done, and continue to do, more for the third world than all other nations combined. There's plenty of global production capacity to feed 10 billion plus. The only impediment is governments.

Minnesota  |  January, 14, 2013 at 09:58 AM

They offered a solution from their viewpoint. You apparently disagree. What is your solution to feed starving people?

Bea Elliott    
Florida  |  January, 14, 2013 at 12:49 PM

From the report: "By 2075 the UN predicts that the world’s population is set to reach around 9.5 billion, which could mean an extra three billion mouths to feed. A key issue to dealing with this population growth is how to produce more food in a world with resources under competing pressures – particularly given the added stresses caused by global warming and the increasing popularity of eating meat – which requires around 10 times the land resources of food like rice or potatoes." " The challenge is that an increase in animal-based production will require greater land and resource requirement, as livestock farming demands extensive land use. One hectare of land can, for example, produce rice or potatoes for 19–22 people per annum. The same area will produce enough lamb or beef for only one or two people. Considerable tensions are likely to emerge, as the need for food competes with demands..." Clearly we need to conserve and utilize what we have wisely - Part of that entails a transition to a plant based diet. But you animal ag folks know this already - Surely you do?

January, 14, 2013 at 04:38 PM

Maybe the answer is to make food more valuable by charging more so waste is less tolerable.

shaun evertson    
Nebraska  |  January, 14, 2013 at 05:37 PM

They didn't offer a solution. The solution is in place and I'm part of it. I feed more than 150 people every day. Governments feed -- ta da -- zero people per day.

shaun evertson    
Nebraska  |  January, 14, 2013 at 05:39 PM

Sigh. There's reality, and there's fantasy. Only a relatively few people living in developed countries get to spend their lives in fantasyland.

Florida  |  January, 14, 2013 at 08:35 PM

The ranch in the tropical third-world country where I worked produced beef on the grassland, coconuts, coffee, and timber on the hill sides, and grain in the flat fields for the fattening of the cattle. All these things were in demand in the city and it was profitable to grow them. I don’t see what good it would do to give up meat in favor of rice which was not very profitable because of government price controls (which is called exporting poverty to the countryside). There were plenty of fresh vegetables and rice in the markets in the cities. The folks who were starving were living in the cities because they moved there from the country in hopes of making more money and improving their lives. It didn’t work for some of them. Living and working in a third world country was exciting for me but it was initially a shock in some ways. In my American public school education I had been fed a lot of fertilizer that really won’t green up the crops. I had to learn a few things on the job. The police set up “check points” on the roads and you have to pay to get your product to market. If you are too far from town there is no profit in the journey. You plant timber trees that the forestry department recommends and when the timber is ready to harvest, the government decides it is time for a logging ban to save the forests. Many of the problems of third-world countries are caused directly by the governments there. Hunger is one of them. There was ample land and people to work it where I lived. There was a shortage of that good old freedom that we take for granted in the United States.

Dorine McKinnon    
Florida  |  January, 25, 2013 at 06:23 AM

I would tell Mr. Maday, the author the exact same thing I would tell Bloomberg or any of the other elitists who wish to impose regulations on individuals in the name of 'the collective'... What I do with the food I buy is none of your darned business. Butt OUT!! As an informed individual I don't need yet more regulation imposed for anyone's agenda. If you wish to inform me of ways to avoid waste, I'm all eyes, but if you call for government action you will get an altogether different less civilized response more akin to the one finger salute... Further, to put any agenda in the hands of a corrupt UN agency is beyond stupid, as has been proved time-after-time by virtually every UN agency.

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