Global Food Waste A Pandemic Problem For The Future
April 8, 2013

Curbing Global Food Waste More Critical Than Ever, Says Prominent Researcher

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

At the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans this weekend, keynote speaker John Floros said that feeding the world has to include reducing food waste in developed countries.

Referring to agricultural innovations that began in the 1960s, Floros said, "We will need another 'Green Revolution' to feed the world by 2050. That will mean scientific innovations, such as new strains of the big three grains — rice, wheat and corn — adapted for a changing climate and other conditions. It also will require action to reduce a terrible waste of food that gets too little attention."

Floros, the dean of the College of Agriculture at Kansas State University (KSU), emphasized that half of the food harvested from farmers' fields is lost before reaching consumers in developed countries like the United States. Food waste occurs due to spoilage or destruction by pests. Additionally, Floros noted that rodents eat or spoil 20 percent of the world's food supply, sometimes simply due to contact with their feces or urine.

"A different kind of waste occurs in the United States and some other developed countries," Floros said. "Developed countries have much more efficient systems for preserving, storing, transporting and protecting food from spoilage and pests. But as a nation — households, supermarkets, restaurants, other food-service providers — we throw away about 4 out of every 10 pounds of food produced each year."

Government statistics have shown that the average family of four in the United States wastes 20 pounds of food each month, worth over $2,000 a year. The food waste includes uneaten and spoiled food that is thrown out from refrigerators and pantry shelves.

Studies have shown that uneaten food rivals paper and plastic as the leading waste material in some municipal landfills. In addition to taking up space, rotting food releases methane gas as it decomposes. A powerful greenhouse gas, methane is about 20 times more potent than the carbon dioxide released from automobiles.

Floros said reducing food waste is a collaborative effort that would contribute to solving other great global challenges, as food waste also squanders energy, fertilizers and other resources used in food production, transportation and storage.

He added that the effects of climate change may stress the resources required for food production even further, as drought and extreme weather could impact food production.

Floros noted that emerging markets like China have the opportunity to curtail food waste as their culture and infrastructure changes in the face of growing demand.

"Millions of people in some developing countries are becoming more affluent,” Floros said. “In the past, people were satisfied with food that filled them up and sustained life. Increasingly, they will demand food that is convenient to prepare, certified as safe and highly nutritious and tastes good."

Forces within the United States are also expected to impact the food industry, Floros said. Increasing biofuel production along with depressive economic forces could strain agricultural research and development.

"We're not doing enough to resolve these complex issues that are critical for providing 9-10 billion people with a nutritious diet," said Floros. "Consumers, industry, universities and governments all need to pitch in. The first step is more awareness of these issues and the need for action on multiple levels of society."