Globe, Human Rights, Politiks, World

Whilst thousands are starving, others throw food away

Europeans waste 90 million tons of food every year. An insignificant amount when compared to the 2 billion tons thrown away by humans that could be used to feed the 870 million people that are starving in the world.


Mientras miles 02Olga Briasco


Next to some bins around a market a human figure can be spotted. Age and sex cannot be determined but is clear what they are doing. Among the loads of fruit and food, they are inspecting what others have thrown away because it no longer appears to be suitable or is out-of- date.

They are spotted at dawn, while society sleeps with a full stomach without realising that the containers have been filled with food that can be safely consumed. It is there that people without resources gather and select something good to feed their families.

Mientras miles 04They reuse the food that the rest of society throws away without hesitation. An amount that fluctuates between 1.2 and 2 billion tons a year, according to the report “Global food, waste not, want not”, published by the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers (ImechE).

In other words, between 30% and 50% of 4 billion tons of food generated in the world is not being consumed. From that amount, 90 million tons correspond to the European Union and 100 million to Latin America.

As the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) says in its campaign “Think. Eat, Save. Reduce your Foodprint” to raise awareness about food waste.

Mientras miles 03The organisation highlights that with less than half of the food that is thrown away every year in industrialised regions, around 870 million starving people in the world could be fed.

It also warns that half of the food that is being wasted in developing countries represents more than the entire food production of sub-Saharan Africa.

The economic value per year of the waste of food is calculated to reach almost a billion dollars.

Tristram Stuart, author of the book “Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal”, points out that bread and other cereal products wasted in British households could have been enough to help 30 million people that suffer from malnutrition.

Mientras miles 05According to IMechE’s data, in the United Kingdom 7 million tons of food is being discarded, with an estimated cost of £10 billion, which would amount to £513 per family.

Developing countries: The small farmer

This waste of food happens throughout the entire supply chain, starting with the farming production until consumption in households.

In the case of developing countries food is wasted more in the initial stages and less in the consumption stage.

The causes of these losses are related to financial and technical limitations during the harvesting process, also the storage problems and refrigeration in bad climate conditions, lack of infrastructure, packaging and inefficient marketing.

South of Asia is another example, where the losses in rice fluctuate between 37% in China and 80% in Vietnam.

This is why Oxfam International aims to help small farmers to reduce losses in the countryside and to increase their incomes. If they manage to achieve this, they are certain that the life of these people will improve considerably.

Consumer goods marketing

Mientras miles 10
Photo by O. Briasco

On the contrary, the waste and loss of food in industrialised countries, within middle and high social classes, occurs in the final part of the food chain.

Agreements between farmers and buyers can also contribute to farming waste. In fact, a report issued by IME highlights that up to 30% of vegetable farming in the United Kingdom is never harvested.

Also the superficial appearance of products is overvalued, which results in a great part of the harvest of fruit and vegetables being discarded.

Tristram Stuart confirms in his book; he points out that the United Kingdom discards between 25% and 40% of the harvest of fruit and vegetables, because these are considered cosmetically imperfect produce (size, appearance and imperfections).


This amount has reduced by 17% since 2007 thanks to campaigns against food waste and the change of the European law that regulates the quality standards of fruit and vegetables (CE Nº 1221/2008) allowing the sale of less aesthetic products.

Food labelling regulations

Promotional prices of the products that are partially damaged or are nearly out-of-date are also amongst the waste factors. These attractive offers drive consumers to buy more than they actually need.

In the same way, the strict expiration policy is also responsible. In fact, between 30% and 50% of what is bought in developed economies is thrown out by consumers because they don’t understand the difference between the “best-before” and “use-by” dates.

Mientras miles 07Because of this, the European Parliament approved in January 2012 to change the regulations concerning the expiration date and food labelling in order clarify the period of useful life.

With this measure in place, consumers will more easily be able to identify the expiry date, which indicates the exact date from which the food is no longer edible, and the “best before” date, which marks the date when the product has lost many of its original properties but can perfectly be consumed.

These new measures aim, by 2025, to reduce to half the waste of food in good conditions, which today comes up to 179 kg per person, per year.

At home

Mientras miles 09Campaigns such as Think. Eat. Save or guides like the one created by the Spanish Confederation of Consumer and User Cooperatives (Hispacoop) provide tips for families to consume the food they buy more efficiently.

Their first advice is to come up with a weekly menu and buy according to the meal plan selected. In the same way, purchases should be aligned to required amounts, checking the expiration date in order to avoid buying short-lived foods.

Food preservation is also in sight. So, it is recommended that you keep your fridge between 1ºC and 5°C and stores newly bought goods at the back and keep older ones in front for easy access.

They also advise freezing those products that are not going to be eaten immediately.

Reducing the amount of food waste is a matter that concerns us all and not only benefits everyone’s economy but also a billion people that are starving in the world.


(Translated by Evelyn Dench – Email:

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