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Food waste: not only morally wrong

While millions of people suffer from extreme hunger, one third of the food produced on the planet for human consumption, equivalent to 1,300 million tonnes, becomes categorised as waste.


Silvia Martínez


Data from the World Food Programme (WFP) show that the highest rates of food wastage apply to fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers, making up between 40% and 50 % of the production; cereals at 30 %; and meat, dairy and seafood products between 20% and 35%.

In the chain of damage (of goods produced and not properly utilized), there are also uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn impact global warming and climate change. For José Graziano da Silva, general director of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), the mitigation of food loss and waste in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is of paramount importance.

“It must be one of our highest priorities when dealing with the impacts of climate change,” he said, referring to the futile waste of natural resources, such as land and water, in producing food that nobody consumes in the end.

In its report “The state of food security and nutrition in the world (SOFI 2018)”, the FAO warns that world hunger has risen for the third consecutive year, affecting almost 821 million people, one in nine of the planet’s inhabitants.

It is a phenomenon attributable in essence to the ravages caused by conflicts and violence in many parts of the world, climate variability and exposure to extreme weather events, among other factors.

This increase in undernourishment in the world in recent years is “an important warning that we are not on the right track to eradicating hunger by 2030,” he warned. The FAO repeatedly warns that enough food is produced in the world to feed everyone, but much is lost in the supply chain, from production to final household consumption.

The international organisation stresses that reducing food loss and waste is crucial in guaranteeing more productive food systems, with greater resilience and a low emission levels as well as promoting climate action in the agricultural sector.

Where and why the waste?

Food is squandered throughout the chain of production, distribution, processing and consumption, with an impact on both underdeveloped and industrialized nations, during different processes and due to different causes, but also common practices.

In the former, waste occurs basically in the initial stages and the intermediate phase of the supply chain, both marked by an absence of technology and knowledge, and by the constant punishing conditions of climate change.

Meanwhile, in wealthy or high-income nations, waste occurs in the last stage of the process and even at times when food is still suitable for human consumption.

In both cases, it happens with some frequency that growers and intermediaries refrain from distributing the harvest to ensure high prices and even to at least cover the costs of production and transportation.

Wholesale distributors and transporters also regularly manage, as they please, the supply and demand flow, which they frequently negotiate with retailers.

This also happens when the place of harvest or production is very far from the market, which makes goods significantly more expensive and it is more difficult for people with lower incomes to access them.

In this regard, the increased role of local food systems in shortening the supply and sale chain, called Kilometre Zero, is advancing in many countries as an applicable solution, in line with the availability of resources in each place.

Kilometre Zero, in addition to promoting direct sales and closer contact with consumers, avoids waste, food is consumed fresh and is therefore healthier; it eliminates the intermediary, lowers costs and allows fairer incomes for the direct producers.

In domestic settings, waste also originates, for among other reasons, due to the lack of planning when making purchases; the knowledge of the “consume before” in reference to the expiration date, plus the attitude of certain people who can afford to throw food away.

Education and sanctioning

There are many plans to encourage more rational food usage, from education at different levels of teaching, to the adoption of measures against those who profit from waste, due to shortages or hoarding as ways of manipulating the market for their own convenience.

In the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 23), the FAO presented the study “SAVE FOOD for a Better Climate”, which addresses the interrelation between food loss and waste and climate change.

This document details the essential principles to reduce-reuse-recycle, and making food stay within the supply chain itself as a main variable, either through donations or even creating new markets when possible.

If the food does not meet the requirements for human consumption, it can be used in animal agriculture, or even recycled through composting, to return the nutrients to the soil or recover energy, such as biogas from anaerobes. Recycling or recovery is preferable to the incineration of unconsumed food, while landfill classifies as a last resort, the text points out. (PL)

(Translated by Hannah Phelvin-Hartley – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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