This article is shared from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Please go here to read the original article.
Direct economic costs of $750 billion annually – Better policies required, and “success stories” need to be scaled up and replicated
11 September 2013, Rome - The waste of a staggering 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year is not only causing major economic losses but also wreaking significant harm on the natural resources that humanity relies upon to feed itself, says a new FAO report.
Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources is the first study to analyze the impacts of global food wastage from an environmental perspective, looking specifically at its consequences for the climate, water and land use, and biodiversity.
Among its key findings: Each year, food that is produced but not eaten guzzles up a volume of water equivalent to the annual flow of Russia's Volga River and is responsible for adding 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the planet's atmosphere.
And beyond its environmental impacts, the direct economic consequences to producers of food wastage (excluding fish and seafood) run to the tune of $750 billion annually, FAO's report estimates.
"All of us - farmers and fishers; food processors and supermarkets; local and national governments; individual consumers -- must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can't," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.
"We simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go to waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices, when 870 million people go hungry every day," he added.
As a companion to its new study, FAO has also published a comprehensive "tool-kit" that contains recommendations on how food loss and waste can be reduced at every stage of the food chain.
The tool-kit profiles a number of projects around the world that show how national and local governments, farmers, businesses, and individual consumers can take steps to tackle the problem.
Achim Steiner, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, said: "UNEP and FAO have identified food waste and loss --food wastage-- as a major opportunity for economies everywhere to assist in a transition towards a low carbon, resource efficient and inclusive Green Economy. Today's excellent report by FAO underlines the multiple benefits that can be realized-- in many cases through simple and thoughtful measures by for example households, retailers, restaurants, schools and businesses-- that can contribute to environmental sustainability, economic improvements, food security and the realization of the UN Secretary General's Zero Hunger Challenge. We would urge everyone to adopt the motto of our joint campaign: Think Eat Save - Reduce Your Foodprint!".
UNEP and FAO are founding partners of the Think Eat Save - Reduce Your Foodprint campaign that was launched earlier in the year and whose aim is to assist in coordinating worldwide efforts to manage down wastage.
Where wastage happens
Fifty-four percent of the world's food wastage occurs "upstream" during production, post-harvest handling and storage, according to FAO's study. Forty-six percent of it happens "downstream," at the processing, distribution and consumption stages.
As a general trend, developing countries suffer more food losses during agricultural production, while food waste at the retail and consumer level tends to be higher in middle- and high-income regions -- where it accounts for 31-39 percent of total wastage -- than in low-income regions (4-16 percent).
The later a food product is lost along the chain, the greater the environmental consequences, FAO's report notes, since the environmental costs incurred during processing, transport, storage and cooking must be added to the initial production costs.
Several world food wastage "hot-spots" stand out in the study:
Wastage of cereals in Asia is a significant problem, with major impacts on carbon emissions and water and land use. Rice's profile is particularly noticeable, given its high methane emissions combined with a large level of wastage.
While meat wastage volumes in all world regions is comparatively low, the meat sector generates a substantial impact on the environment in terms of land occupation and carbon footprint, especially in high-income countries and Latin America, which in combination account for 80 percent of all meat wastage. Excluding Latin America, high-income regions are responsible for about 67 percent of all meat wastage
Fruit wastage contributes significantly to water waste in Asia, Latin America, and Europe, mainly as a result of extremely high wastage levels.
Similarly, large volumes of vegetable wastage in industrialized Asia, Europe, and South and South East Asia translates into a large carbon footprint for that sector.
Causes of food wastage - and options for addressing them
A combination of consumer behavior and lack of communication in the supply chain underlies the higher levels of food waste in affluent societies, according to FAO. Consumers fail to plan their shopping, overpurchase, or over-react to "best-before-dates," while quality and aesthetic standards lead retailers to reject large amounts of perfectly edible food.
In developing countries, significant post-harvest losses in the early part of the supply chain are a key problem, occurring as a result of financial and structural limitations in harvesting techniques and storage and transport infrastructure, combined with climatic conditions favorable to food spoilage.
To tackle the problem, FAO's toolkit details three general levels where action is needed:
High priority should be given to reducing food wastage in the first place. Beyond improving losses of crops on farms due to poor practices, doing more to better balance production with demand would mean not using natural resources to produce unneeded food in the first place.
In the event of a food surplus, re-use within the human food chain-- finding secondary markets or donating extra food to feed vulnerable members of society-- represents the best option. If the food is not fit for human consumption, the next best option is to divert it for livestock feed, conserving resources that would otherwise be used to produce commercial feedstuff.
Where re-use is not possible, recycling and recovery should be pursued: by-product recycling, anaerobic digestion, compositing, and incineration with energy recovery allow energy and nutrients to be recovered from food waste, representing a significant advantage over dumping it in landfills. Uneaten food that ends up rotting in landfills is a large producer of methane, a particularly harmful GHG.
Funding for the Food Wastage Footprint report and toolkit was provided by the government of Germany.
Read in more detail about FAO's specific recommendations for reducing food wastage.
This article is shared from National Geographic. Please go here to read the original post.
Editor's Note: Tristram Stuart is one of National Geographic's 2014 Emerging Explorers, part of a program that honors tomorrow's visionaries—those making discoveries, making a difference, and inspiring people to care about the planet.
Tristram Stuart thinks we should do something revolutionary with food: Eat it.
The British author calls the problem of food waste "scandalous and grotesque" and cites statistics to prove it:
One-third of the world's food is wasted from plough to plate.
The planet's one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment with less than a quarter of the food wasted in the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe.
The water used to irrigate food that ends up being thrown away could meet the domestic water needs of nine billion people.
Until a few years ago, the colossal scale of food waste was largely unaddressed. But Stuart's 2009 book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, and the grassroots initiatives he launched have lifted the topic from obscurity to prominence worldwide.
"We want to catalyze a food-waste revolution one person, one town, one country at a time—helping stop needless hunger and environmental destruction across our planet," he says.
As a teen, Tristram Stuart raised pigs. He fed them leftovers from local shops and was shocked by how much food was going to waste.
Stuart's passion started with pigs. At age 15, he raised a few pigs to earn extra money, feeding them with leftover food from his school kitchen and local shops. He soon realized that most of the food that went to the pigs was actually fit for human consumption. He also began noticing supermarket garbage bins overflowing with fresh food.
"Everywhere I looked, we were hemorrhaging food," he says. "So I began confronting businesses about the waste and exposing it to the public."
His research revealed that most rich countries produce between three and four times more food than required to meet their citizens' nutritional needs. Yet one billion people suffer from malnutrition worldwide.
"Producing this huge surplus leads to deforestation, depleted water supplies, massive fossil fuel consumption, and biodiversity loss," Stuart says. "Excess food decomposing in landfills accounts for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by wealthy nations."
In 2009, Stuart launched what has become the flagship event of his global food-waste campaign: Feeding the 5000. Created entirely of food that would otherwise be wasted, the free feast in London has been replicated around the world.
"These events give people a clear, tangible idea of food-waste problems and potential solutions right where they live," Stuart says. "A few years ago most big U.K. supermarkets wouldn't even talk to food redistribution charities—today they all do."
Stuart has also successfully campaigned for retailers to relax strict cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables. "Farmers leave up to 40 percent of harvests rotting in fields because their produce doesn't conform to the perfect size or shape big supermarkets demand," Stuart says. "This even happens in countries like Kenya where millions of people are hungry."
Food waste “leads to deforestation, depleted water supplies, massive fossil fuel consumption, and biodiversity loss," Stuart says.
Since Stuart's efforts began, many supermarkets have changed policies. "Ugly" fruits and vegetables are now the fastest growing sector in the fresh produce market. Since stores can sell them for less, shoppers get a bargain. In 2013, U.K. farmers sold 300,000 tons of produce that would once have been rejected, an increase of 20 percent for many growers.
Farmers have benefited from Stuart's actions in other ways as well. Previously, if supermarkets cut back on their produce order at the last moment, farmers bore the cost. After Stuart and other organizations spotlighted the problem, legislation was passed to force U.K. retailers to share the burden. "Now [supermarkets] have an incentive to improve forecasts and hence curb waste," says Stuart.
Even so, some produce is still left in fields to rot. Stuart's Gleaning Network sends thousands of volunteers to harvest that surplus food, which is then distributed to the hungry. The network has expanded across the U.K. and France, and will soon launch in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.
Stuart has not forgotten his porcine roots. Another project, The Pig Idea, seeks to change laws that restrict using food waste to feed pigs. "Pigs were originally domesticated for the sole purpose of recycling human food waste back into food," says Stuart, "a process that has worked for thousands of years."
These days, many countries "import millions of tons of soy from South America to feed pigs—causing massive deforestation throughout the Amazon," he says. "We also feed pigs wheat and maize, which hungry people in Africa and Asia could eat."
His initiative calls for a strongly regulated system that would allow pigs to be safely fed food waste once again. The campaign has inspired supermarkets to send waste that is legal for livestock, such as bread, to farms rather than landfills. "Feeding food waste to pigs saves 20 times more carbon than the next-best recycling method," he says.
Stuart works with a small team in London, devising and testing ideas, then sharing them with anyone who can replicate and expand them worldwide. "We've become an international hub for sharing knowledge, communicating best practices, and forging collaborations," he says. "The food-waste movement started as a trickle—but today it's a tidal wave."
He stresses that each individual can make a powerful difference: "In the U.K., food waste in homes has already decreased 25 percent.
"Citizens are the sleeping giant in this equation," adds Stuart. "By rising up and speaking out, we can—and are—making the world's food system less unjust and more sustainable every day."