One third of the world's food ending up in trash

One third of all food is wasted worldwide as it moves from the production to consumption phase, amounting to global losses worth $940 billion annually.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted annually.

There are roughly 800 million people around the world who are undernourished and 98 percent of them belong to developing countries, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Conflicts, extreme climate and economic factors have all contributed to this figure but what's even more worrying for development organisations is the fact that a significant percentage of food grown for human consumption never makes it to their plates.

One third of all food, by weight, is wasted worldwide as it moves from the production to consumption phase, amounting to global economic losses worth $940 billion annually, FAO estimates.

But a new global standard, the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard (FLW Standard), has now been devised to measure these huge losses on a micro level and channel more food and resources to regions which need them the most.

"There's simply no reason that so much food should be lost and wasted," says Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute (WRI), which has led work on the standard.

"Now we have a powerful new tool that will help governments and businesses save money, protect resources, and ensure more people get the food they need." 

The standard is the first set of international definitions and reporting requirements for businesses, governments and other organisations to measure and manage food loss and waste, with the aim of reducing it, its creators say.

The carbon footprint of wasted food is estimated at 3.3 gigatonnes.

The "Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard" has been developed jointly by WRI, FAO, Consumer Goods Forum, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

There's already some positive feedback trickling in.

Putting the 'standard' to test

Nestle has adopted a very hands-on approach in Pakistan, where it procures milk from over 100,000 farmers. 

Refrigerated tanks in villages and a cooling system used during the transportation process are requirements that each farmer must make use of to ensure requirements are being met. 

According to Pascal Gréverath, Nestle's vice president for environmental sustainability, wastage in its supply chain in Pakistan was found to be just 1.4 percent, using the FLW Standard, compared with a national average of more than 15 percent.

"Since we are in direct contact with many farmers, we have many opportunities to use (the standard) to better assess the possible options to further reduce loss and waste," Gréverath told reporters. 

"This we do also together with local authorities, so there are ways we can promote the protocol."

Robert van Otterdijk, an agro-industry officer with the FAO, said his agency would introduce the standard in its work in the developing world, and see how it could be implemented to produce better data on food loss and waste.

In low-income countries, food "loss" is the bigger problem, meaning food spoiled early in the value chain during harvest or in storage, transport and processing. But in richer nations, food "waste" thrown away by shops and consumers is worse.

The backers of the standard, launched at the Global Green Growth Forum in Copenhagen, hope governments will adopt it to measure progress under the new Sustainable Development Goals. Those call for food waste to be cut in half by 2030, and for food losses to be reduced by that date.

"The logic goes that there will be a convergence in thinking and the complexities are eased out," said James Lomax, a food systems programme officer with UNEP.

Fast facts from FAO:

1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted annually.

Forty-five percent of this waste is made up of fruit and vegetables, 35 percent seafood, 30 percent cereals, 20 percent dairy products and 20 percent of meat.

Per capita food waste by consumers: Europe and North America - 95-115kg per year, sub-Saharan Africa and South/South-East Asia - 6-11kg. 

The carbon footprint of wasted food is estimated at 3.3 gigatonnes and the production of wasted food also uses around 1.4 billion hectares of land – 28 percent of the world’s agricultural area.

TRTWorld, Reuters