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FAO: Food losses and food waste: extent, causes and prevention

arton3405“Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year – approximately 1.3 billion tonnes – gets lost or wasted globally” and “Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).”


These are some key findings of a new report commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): Food losses and food waste: extent, causes and prevention. The findings are stunning when one considers that food insecurity is a huge problem in many parts of the world, and one that will increase considerably in the coming years (if not appropriately addressed now).

Prepared for the international congress Save Food! (Dsseldorf, 16-17 May) by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (SIK) on behalf of FAO, the report aims to contribute to the objective of the congress to raise awareness on global food losses and waste, and on the impact of these on poverty and hunger in the world, as well as on climate change and on the use of natural resources. The study finds that food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain, although clear differences can be observed among medium- and high-income countries on the one hand, and low-income countries on the other. “Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food – respectively 670 and 630 million tonnes,” but: “Overall, on a per-capita basis, much more food is wasted in the industrialized world than in developing countries. We estimate that the per capita food waste by consumers in Europe and North-America is 95-115 kg/year, while this figure in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia is only 6-11 kg/year,” the report notes.

The report further distinguishes between food waste - throwing perfectly edible foodstuffs into the trash -, and food loss, which occurs at the production, harvest, post-harvest and processing phases. It finds that in medium- and high-income countries a significant amount of food is wasted at the consumption level, while in low-income countries food loss is much more prevalent in the early and middle stages of the food supply chain, due to poor infrastructure, low levels of technology and low investment in the food production systems.

The study remarks that the loss and waste of food can also be translated into a loss or waste of resources in food production, and the unnecessary production of greenhouse gas emissions. “This inevitably also means that huge amounts of the resources used in food production are used in vain, and that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by production of food that gets lost or wasted are also emissions in vain,” it states.

The study therefore recommends that the food supply chains in developing countries should be strengthened, amongst others by diversifying and up-scaling the production and marketing of small farmers, and by (public and private) investments in infrastructure, transportation, food and packaging industries. Food waste in industrialized countries can be reduced by raising awareness among food industries, retailers and consumers on how to better use food that is now thrown away. Besides, more research is needed in the field of food waste and loss, and in relation to international trade, as many food products are produced, transformed and consumed in different parts of the world.

To close with a quote from the report: “In a world with limited natural resources (land, water, energy, fertilizer), and where cost-effective solutions are to be found to produce enough safe and nutritious food for all, reducing food losses should not be a forgotten priority.”

To access the report, click here.

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