Farm to Plate – The 33% dilemma - where does our food go?

Blog by Sarah Daly

Following the recent report by Institute of Mechanical Engineers, there has been much discussion and speculation about the moral and economic issues surrounding food waste.  The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) recently launched a global campaign to tackle food waste.

The campaign, called Think.Eat.Save., is a call to action by consumers, food retailers, the hospitality industry and their supply chains to dramatically cut the 1.3 billion tonnes of food that are lost or wasted globally each year.

The critical factor here is that to be successful, change must be understood and owned at all stages of production and consumption.

Clearly there are many stages at which food is wasted from farm to plate, so the analysts at sustainability consultants ,Best Foot Forward, have delved further and produced an infographic to show where this waste actually occurs in the food production chain. This will allow a more informed debate and challenge everyone to look at how waste can be reduced at every stage.

Much of the popular media coverage following the IMechE report fed on the shocking figure that up to 50% of edible food is never consumed; often accompanied by images of household bins teeming with domestic food waste. This gives the impression that the biggest issue is at consumer level when, as Best Foot Forward’s infographic shows – consumer waste is 9% of all edible food production (globally) and all the stages from production to retail account for 24% - so there’s clearly culpability throughout the chain.

The figures in the apple are expressed as percentages of waste in total global food produced. The food supply chain illustrations below the apple show the loss as a % of each stage. For example 9% of all the food in production will be lost in this stage; 7% of all food in the post-harvest, handling, storage and distribution stage will be lost or wasted before it reaches the markets; and 6% each in the processing and market system/retail stages. The largest single loss will be at consumption stage (households, restaurants, foodservice, etc.) where so much good food is thrown away due to a variety of reasons: over-buying, poor storage, lack of portion control, alternative uses for left-overs – the reasons are many and known and efforts are being made to motivate solutions.

There are clearly significant issues with household waste which must be addressed – especially in Europe and North America where per capita food waste is estimated at 95-115kg per year compared to 6-11kg per year in Sub-Saharan Africa and South-Southeast Asia. The figure in the infographic on consumer waste is a consolidated global figure so the actual proportion of consumer waste in the UK is actually over 30%.

Indeed as the Think.Eat.Save. website explains: “United Kingdom households waste an estimated 6.7 million tonnes of food every year, around one third of the 21.7 million tonnes purchased. This means that approximately 32 per cent of all food purchased per year is not eaten. “

88% of food waste is currently collected by local authorities even though it is estimated that as much as 61% of that is avoidable and could have been eaten had it been better managed (WRAP, 2008; Knight and Davis, 2007).

Knowing that the food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people (FAO, 2013) is a very sobering statistic and one that should focus the minds of everyone who works in the food and associated sectors, as well as consumers.

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