Nearly Half Of All Food Is Wasted, Accounting For More Than 2 Billion Tons Annually
January 10, 2013

Nearly Half Of All Food Is Wasted, Accounting For More Than 2 Billion Tons Annually

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

As the global population continues to grow at an astounding rate, and as food stocks continue to dwindle due to a number of factors, more and more people around the world will be left with less food on their plate. And when you tie in an unsettling report on food waste, the issue becomes all too surreal.

A new report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) states that as much as half of the world´s food supply (more than 2 billion tons) is wasted each year. The bulk of this waste is being caused by poor storage, strict sell-by guidelines, bulk offers and consumer finickiness, according to the report.

The report also found that upwards of 30 percent of all vegetables in the UK go un-harvested because of their physical appearance alone. The finding is staggering, said IMechE´s Dr. Tim Fox, whose report found that half of the 4+ billion tons of food produced annually ends up in the garbage. And half of the food American and European consumers buy at their grocers every week also ends up being thrown away.

Fox, head of energy and environment at IMechE, said: "The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is [overwhelming]. This is food that could be used to feed the world's growing population - as well as those in hunger today.”

The report draws on the work by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, which has covered food waste for a number of years. Still, Fox suggests there is no absolute reliable global data on the level of food being wasted.

It´s absurd that farmers around the country are not harvesting 30 percent of their crops for fear they will not meet supermarket standards. The report gleaned that data from an earlier study (2008) that looked at potato harvests. That study concluded that 6 percent of crops are lost at the field level while another 22 percent are thrown away or diverted to other markets during processing.

Fox noted that there needs to be a separating description between food loss and food waste. He told the BBC that food losses occur in the “early part of the food supply chain.” Food waste occurs later, and is often the product of “poor marketing practices and consumer behavior” mainly in the developed economies.

The report–Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not–also found that as much as 550 billion cubic meters of water were being used to grow crops that never made it to the dinner table. And the demand for water for food production could approach 10 to 13 trillion cubic meters by 2050.

Numbers are going to continue to rise as the population burgeons. The UN predicts the global population will reach 9.5 billion by 2075. That will be an extra 3 billion mouths to feed in just 60 years.

"As water, land and energy resources come under increasing pressure from competing human demands, engineers have a crucial role to play in preventing food loss and waste by developing more efficient ways of growing, transporting and storing foods,” added Fox.

"But in order for this to happen governments, development agencies and organizations like the UN must work together to help change people's mindsets on waste and discourage wasteful practices by farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers," he told the BBC.

“Amazingly, there has been no systematic study of food waste at the farm level either in the UK or elsewhere in Europe or the US,” noted Tristram Stuart, from the food waste campaign group Feeding the 5000. "In my experience, it's normal practice for farmers to assume that 20% to 40% of their fruit and vegetable crops won't get to market, even if they are perfectly fit for human consumption."

Perhaps an even more shocking trend is that roughly 45,000 pounds of food is thrown away per restaurant per year in the UK–and thirty percent of that is off the consumer´s plate, according to Tom Tanner of the Sustainable Restaurants Association.

When it comes to supermarkets, entire crops can be rejected because they are the wrong size or have the wrong appearance, even though they are perfectly edible. While many grocery chains reject foods based on their customers´ shopping habits, many other supermarkets are guilty of encouraging consumers to buy more than they can eat, according to the report.

Sell-by and use-by dates are also contributing to the food waste conundrum. Supermarkets often use conservative estimates to avoid the threat of legal action in the case of a consumer consuming outdated food that may or may not make them sick. And more often than not, consumers are throwing their food away prematurely because the use-by date is often several days prior to when the food would have actually gone bad, if not longer.

Fox´s report called on governments to introduce better technology and food storage facilities in developing economies and introducing policies to reduce waste by supermarkets and consumers in Britain, the US and other leading markets.

The report stated that better land usage, water usage and energy usage is needed to combat the growing levels of food loss around the world. More will need to be done now to ensure the people of the future do not go hungry. Especially since it will be a hard campaign to get consumers to stop wasting the food once it reaches their pantry.

The IMechE report stated that engineers, scientists and agriculturists already have the knowledge and the tools needed to combat food loss and increase productivity. Productivity would increase by 60 to 100 percent just by eliminating food losses, it said.