Food waste has huge environmental impact, report finds

A new report has found that 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted every year, reigniting calls for changes to supply chains and waste practices.

The report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation finds that 50% of this food waste is ‘upstream’ (during production and storage) and 46% is ‘downstream’ in the processing, distribution and consumption stages. With costs estimated at $750bn, the economic problem is already well understood, but this report seeks to highlight the needless environmental impact of vast wastage, and identifies changes in all stages of the food chain to bring wastage down.

Waste needs to be tackled along the full length of the food chain

Waste needs to be tackled along the full length of the food chain

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, said: “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. 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.”

A toolkit for food waste  reduction produced with the German government alongside the report identifies three areas for action:

  • Reducing primary food waste upstream by cutting wasteful practices in production and producing to demand
  • Re-using food within the human food chain by donating surplus food to vulnerable or needy members of society or to feed livestock (as suggested by The Pig Idea campaign) where food is not fit for human consumption
  • Recycling and recovering waste food to use in more productive ways than filling landfill sites – such as in energy recovery or composting.

According to the FAO, in affluent countries like the UK, consumers fail to plan their shopping, over-purchase, or overreact to “best-before-dates,” while quality and aesthetic standards lead retailers to reject large amounts of perfectly edible food.

The UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the FAO, who both founded the Think Eat Save campaign urged everyone along the food chain to adopt their motto and reduce food wastage to reduce the need to increase food production by the 60% needed by the 2050 population demand.

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