Food waste reduction could help feed world's starving

 

One third of all food produced is wasted, the UN estimates

Related Stories

"If food was as expensive as a Ferrari, we would polish it and look after it."

Instead, we waste staggering amounts.

So says Professor Per Pinstrup-Andersen, head of an independent panel of experts advising the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization on how to tackle the problem.

Some 40% of all the food produced in the United States is never eaten. In Europe, we throw away 100 million tonnes of food every year.

And yet there are one billion starving people in the world.

The FAO's best guess is that one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted before it is eaten.

Food waste

33%

of all food is wasted

$750bn

cost of waste food

  • 28% of farmland grows food that will be thrown away

  • 6-10% of greenhouse gases come from waste food

  • 39% of household food waste is fruit and vegetables

SPL

The latest report from the expert panel of the UN Committee on World Food Security concludes that food waste happens for many different reasons in different parts of the world and therefore the solutions have to be local.

Take Chris Pawelski, a fourth generation onion farmer from the US. Mr Pawelski has spent months growing onions in the rich, black soil of Orange County, New York, but the supermarkets he sells to will only accept onions of certain size and look.

Chris Pawelski Chris Pawelski works with a food charity to ensure all of his produce finds a home

"If it's too wet or too dry, the bulbs simply won't make the two-inch size that's required," he says.

"There might be imperfections and nicks. There's nothing wrong with that onion. It's fine to eat. But the consumer, according to the grocery store chain, doesn't want that sort of onion."

In the past, rejected onions would have been sent to rot in a landfill. Now Mr Pawelski works with a local food charity, City Harvest, to redistribute his edible but imperfect-looking onions.

City Harvest says in 2014 it will rescue 46 million pounds - about 21 million kilograms - of food from local farmers, restaurants, grocers and manufacturers for redistribution to urban food programmes.

Onions can be rejected by supermarkets because of their size as Michelle Fleury reports

In rich countries, supermarkets, consumers and the catering industry are responsible for most wasted food. But supermarkets have come under particular pressure to act.

UK supermarket chain Waitrose is attacking food waste in all parts of its business. The upmarket grocery chain cuts prices in order to sell goods that are close to their "sell by" date, donates leftovers to charity and sends other food waste to bio-plants for electricity generation. The idea is for Waitrose to earn "zero landfill" status.

But then there are consumers like Tara Sherbrooke. A busy, working mother of two young children, she works hard to avoid wasting food but still finds herself throwing some of it away.

Working mother Tara Sherbrooke explains why she finds it a "challenge" not to waste food

"I probably waste about £20 worth of food every week," she says. "It's usually half-eaten packets of food that have gone past their 'best before' date."

In the UK, studies have shown that households throw away about seven million tonnes of food a year, when more than half of it is perfectly good to eat.

Part of the problem is poor shopping habits, but the confusion many consumers have with "use by" and "best before" food labels is also a factor. "Use by" refers to food that becomes unsafe to eat after the date, while "best before" is less stringent and refers more to deteriorating quality.

Chart

Plus, as Prof Pinstrup-Andersen points out, food in wealthy countries takes up only a relatively small proportion of income and so people can afford to throw food away.

In developing countries, the problem is one not of wealth but of poverty.

In India's soaring temperatures fruit and vegetables do not stay fresh on the market stall for long. Delhi has Asia's largest produce market and it does have a cold storage facility.

Delhi market In Delhi, keeping fruit fresh is a big problem for stall holders

But it is not big enough and rotting food is left out in piles. There is not enough investment in better farming techniques, transportation and storage. It means lost income for small farmers and higher prices for poor consumers.

In terms of calories, farmers harvest the equivalent of 4,600 calories of food per person per day. But on average only 2,000 of those calories are actually eaten every day - meaning more than half the calories we produce are lost on their way from farm to dinner fork.

There is enough food for everyone, just a lot of inefficiency, the FAO report concludes.

The environmental impact of all this wasted food is enormous. The amount of land needed to grow all the food wasted in the world each year would be the size of Mexico.

The water used to irrigate wasted crops would be enough for the daily needs of nine million people. And wasted production contributes 10% to the greenhouse gas emissions of developed countries.

Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn, New York This plant in Brooklyn uses food scraps to produce energy

Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn, New York, is one project trying to reverse that environmental damage. The plant takes food scraps from local schools and restaurants and converts them into energy. Inside towering, silver eggs food waste is mixed with sewage sludge to create usable gas.

The pilot programme is particularly timely. New York City's restaurants will be required to stop sending food waste to landfills in 2015 and will have to turn to operations like these as alternatives.

So progress is being made. Waste food is high on the agenda politically and environmentally.

But there is still much more work to be done. As Prof Pinstrup-Andersen admits: "We don't really know how much food is being wasted. We just know it's a lot."

 

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 223.

    If I waste food that is unfortunate but nothing I can do would possibly, magically, transport that food to someone in, say, Africa, who really needs it. I try not to waste food but don't try and blame me, and others in this country, for deficits elsewhere in the world.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 214.

    There are very few foods that can't go in the freezer. I find it difficult to understand why people don't just freeze what's near it's date?

  • rate this
    +25

    Comment number 114.

    Yes we all throw the odd slice of stale bread away, or an apple which has gone soft. But I don't know of anyone which throws large amounts away, especially now the price has risen so rapidly.

    The person above who wastes £20 per week obviously has a lot more money than sense.

  • rate this
    +36

    Comment number 40.

    Why do people let themelves be bulliedinto throwing perfectly good food away by 'use by' and 'best before' dates? Take control - YOU decide whether something is edible. If it smells right and isn't green/furry, it won't kill you. As for "imperfect" veg, support your local market and tell the supermarkets to shove it.

  • rate this
    +22

    Comment number 37.

    My supermarket has a donation trolley by the exit for the local food bank. As it's just the two of us pensioners, we don't need the BOGOFs on perishable food, but we always get them anyway, and drop the spare in the trolley, which is always emptied and stored properly on a regular basis until collection. There's always someone worse off than yourself.

 
 

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    SFO bank probe Robert Peston Economics editor

    Does alleged scamming of £200bn Bank of Eng scheme to rescue banks show that some bankers need psychiatric help?

     
  2.  
    07:53: Best investments Radio 5 live
    Lego

    Wake Up To Money was asking listeners earlier about the best investment they have made. For one listener it was a Lego Millennium Falcon set. Have you made a particularly canny investment? Give us your thoughts at bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or @bbcbusiness.

     
  3.  
    07:42: Aviva profits

    Mr Wilson's comments came as the insurance giant Aviva reported a 6% rise in pre-tax operating profit of £2.17bn, compared with just over £2bn a year earlier. The insurer has has been going to through a strategic overhaul including the sale of its North American business last year. It also raised in annual dividend by 30%.

     
  4.  
    07:31: Aviva profits
    Aviva stadium

    Aviva chief executive Mark Wilson says its annual results show the insurer is making "tangible progress". Aviva - sponsor of Dublin's rugby stadium - started "2015 in a position of strength", but he adds it would be "wrong to assume that our turnaround is nearing completion, as we have further to travel than the distance we have come".

     
  5.  
    07:20: London Stock Exchange Group
    LSE Group

    Another good year for London Stock Exchange Group, with revenue up 32% to £1.28bn and adjusted pre-tax profits up 17% to £445.9m. However, on the pure pre-tax level profits slipped 5% to £284.3m. The company is worth £8.3bn and its shares have risen 18% in the past year.

     
  6.  
    SFO Bank investigationVia Twitter Kamal Ahmed BBC Business editor

    "Unprecedented" much over-used by us hacks, but this actually is @BBCNews SFO launches Bank of England criminal probe

     
  7.  
    07:10: ECB bond buying BBC Radio 4
    The EURO logo

    The European Central Bank reveals more details of its bond-buying programme later today - but don't expect any surprises, Andrew Wilson, chief executive of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, tells Today. He says we've already seen "marked weakening" of the euro, so it will be interesting to see what impact ECB action will have.

     
  8.  
    06:55: Drones
    drone

    The House of Lords has called for a tracking system for all drones and their users. A report by the EU Committee of the House of Lords described drones - or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, to give them their official title - as an "exciting new technology", but warned that their use poses risks to the general public and other airspace users.

     
  9.  
    06:44: China growth BBC Radio 4

    China's 7% economic growth target for 2015 is about "sending a message" particularly to local governments, which look to Beijing for guidance in setting their own targets. But at the the same time the government is very concerned about the level of debt in the banking sector - something it is trying to address, Duncan Innes-Ker, China analyst with the Economist intelligence Unit, tells Today.

     
  10.  
    06:30: AbbVie

    Big news from the pharma world overnight as US company AbbVie announced a deal to buy leukemia drugmaker Pharmacyclics for $21bn (£13.8bn). It appears to have won the prize from under the nose of Johnson & Johnson, which some reports say was close to a deal.

     
  11.  
    06:20: Brazil economy Radio 5 live
    Copacabana beach

    The Brazilian currency - the real - has hit a 10-year low after the central bank raised interest rates by half a point to a stonking 12.75% overnight. The BBC's Daniel Gallas in Sao Paulo tells Wake Up to Money that the country could tip into recession this year as the government embarks on an austerity drive, raising taxes and cutting spending.

     
  12.  
    06:11: Interest rates Radio 5 live

    It's been six whole years since the Bank of England cut the base rate to 0.5%. That's been good for borrowers, but not so great for savers - of which there are many more after all. Vivan Slattery, an independent financial adviser, tells Wake Up To Money many of her clients have stayed in cash but are now looking at alternatives given that rates do not seem set to increase sharply anytime soon - particularly as many mortgage holders are now on the standard variable rate.

     
  13.  
    06:05: China growth Radio 5 live

    China has announced that its target growth rate for 2015 is 7% - down from 7.5% for last year. The BBC's Ali Moore in Singapore says the new target is not a reflection of panic in Beijing but part of its drive to lower expectations and rebase the economy to focus more on domestic demand. "It's more about quality than quantity," she adds.

     
  14.  
    Welcome to Thursday Chris Johnston Business reporter

    Good morning from me and Matthew West. Another busy day of business news coming up - we'll be here to guide you through it all. Get in touch with your comments at bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or on Twitter at @bbcbusiness.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • Kinetic sculpture violinClick Watch

    The "kinetic sculpture" that can replicate digital files and play them on a violin

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.