A new report entitled ‘Global Food: Waste not, want not’, published this week showed that almost half of the food produced each ear gets thrown away. Considering that around 870 million people in poorer countries are underfed, according to the latest statistics of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the report comes as a wake-up call to our society.
Food is wasted for various reasons, which differ according to the wealth of a country. As stated by the the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, however, that citizens of rich countries can do most to avoid it.
Taking the U.S for example, one of the main reasons for wasting food is the over-sized portions, which customers simply cannot finish. In the UK, various offers such as ‘buy-one, get one free’, combined with the strict regulations of ‘sell-by dates’, encourage customers to buy more than they need, and ultimately throw sometimes even still edible food.
In addition, customers in rich countries get put off odd-looking vegetables or fruits. According to the report, this makes supermarkets reject harvests leading to binning of 30% of the produced vegetables.
On the other hand, developing countries face problems of their own. Poor transport and storage systems cause rotting of food sometimes even before it has reached the markets. Examples are China and Vietnam, where 45% of the rice is lost this way in the former, while in the latter, the amount reaches 80%.
To top this up, the resources that we use to produce food, which gets thrown away, are huge. About 70% of fresh water is used for food production, with meat taking up more than vegetables. One kilo of beef requires 15,415 liters, compared to the 237 litres needed for a kilo of cabbage. In terms of energy, again meat requires ten times more than vegetables.
According to the report, in the U.S., the energy that goes to waste each year through discarded food is more than what is produced by offshore oil and gas reserves.
On a global scale, one hectare of agricultural land can supply rice and potatoes for 20 people but would feed only one or two, if the energy is converted into producing lamb and beef.
The report suggests that consumers from rich countries should start buying less, and throwing less. Developing countries, on the other hand, should invest more in improving transport systems and adopt technologies for raising yields and preventing waste.