Thursday, June 9, 2011

Despite Global Hunger, One-Third of World's Food Supply Goes To Waste, UN Reports

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2011 at 1:14 PM

In the effort to produce enough food for the world's population, it turns out that food waste is an important area of focus, according to a report issued by the United Nations recently.

Food waste claims about one-third of the world's total supply of food — in fact, 1.3 billion metric tons of food is squandered every year, the report says.

The amount of food lost in developed versus developing nations is about the same. It's how the food goes to waste that is especially disheartening.

In developed countries, food is lost when supply exceeds demand. In poor countries, food is wasted due to inefficient harvesting and poor storage and transportation systems, according to research by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. (Hat tip to Britain's Guardian newspaper.

When food winds up spoiled due to failures in harvest and transport infrastructure, that robs the poor in two ways: lost income for small farmers and higher prices for poor consumers, the report says. Simply improving logistics in the developing world could have an "immediate and significant" impact on health and livelihoods.

Industrialized world food loss is well-documented — in a classic case of oversupply, people and restaurants throw out unwanted food, much of which is produce.

Less well-known is food wastage of "substandard" food in the developed world. The report gives the example of frozen french fries that break in transport and are discarded, or meat trimmings that are perfectly edible but unattractive. The report recommends finding outlets for perfectly edible but insufficiently pretty food.

(The problem is daunting, but some organizations here, like Middle Tennessee's Table, a Second Harvest program, work to rescue perishable food and get it to the needy. The UN also endorses farmers' markets as a way to get produce from the farmer to the consumer while bypassing the cosmetic standards of large-scale retail.)

Combined pre- and post-consumer food loss in North America is about 280 kilos per capita. That figure in, for instance, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia is 120 kilos per capita.

At the consumer level, individuals in Europe and North America discard about 225 pounds of food each year, mostly fruits and vegetables. That figure (at the consumer level) in the developing world is about 15 pounds.

Finally, food wasted by wealthy countries (222 million metric tons) is roughly equal to the entire food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million metric tons).

Since reducing food loss would mean better food security for individual households in the developing world, the report recommends cooperation among farmers, food sales closer to consumers, and government improvement of roads, energy supply and market outlets, plus private investment in cooling facilities.

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