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How much food do you waste?

 

Today, we live in a globally connected society in which the food we buy can be sourced from thousands of miles away. This also means that the way we choose to consume affects others.

As the world’s population expands, so too does demand for food. Yet at the same time, most of this population growth is in poorer countries where hunger and malnutrition are common. This presents us a challenge – how to feed the world whilst minimising harmful impacts on the environment. One potential solution lies with you and I...

In January 2011, the UK Government Office for Science published a report titled "The Future of Food and Farming", on this very issue. The report argues that in order to “address the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead the food system needs to change more radically”. One newly recognised solution that the report highlights surrounds reducing food waste by producers and consumers.

From “production to plate” around 30% of food is wasted, with some estimates suggesting the figure is as high as a staggering 50%. So where is this food going?

After food is grown, some produce may be physically lost occur during harvesting and processing. Further losses may be due to disease, deterioration, or failure to meet quality standards during storage and transportation. These losses are typically more in low-income countries where storage facilities and transport infrastructure is poor. Academics have estimated that producer loss amount to 13-15% in South Asia. Food producers may not have the ability to reduce their losses therefore governments must do more to help.

Household surveys carried out in the UK, US, and Australia find that between 15% and 25% of food purchased ends up in the bin. One possible contributor to this wastage is that food is cheap. The government report suggests that the increasing food prices that we see for some food items today will naturally lead to us to buy less extravagantly. Although, the report stresses that this isn’t enough and that greater awareness of the amount of food we waste is required.

A further reason for food waste is that "best before" dates may not be accurate, leading us to throw away perfectly good food. The report calls for introduction of mass-produced sensor technology into perishable food products that would allow us to better manage our food.

Food services such as restaurants and supermarkets are thought to waste around 20%. Instead, food that is fit for human consumption could be redistributed via schemes such as Fareshare in the UK, and food not fit for human consumption could be used in animal feed or energy source.

Ultimately, the report estimates that if we could half the total amount of food wasted to 15% then the amount of food that we need by 2050 could be reduced by 25% of today’s production. As individuals, we have the capability to reduce the 925 million people that are hungry and provide for future population, we just need to make the conscious decision to do so.

If you'd like to understand more about the challenge of hunger and poverty, sign up to spend 5 days living below the line - eating and drinking on your local equivalent of the extreme poverty line - UK, Australia, USA.

Comments

11/04/11 10:18pm - Posted By anmol.india - Reply to this comment
Its a innovative way to increase supply nd store but hard to convince.Population is increasing fast rate but production isnt fasten at that spead.Some of basic thinge is orthodox feeling nd unlitracy in poor nd underdevelop country. Some awarness camp with different level can help to solow these process.Only food sequrity nd high litracy rate can help to fight global poverty.
13/04/11 12:51am - Posted By Rohan Mohanty - Reply to this comment
With regards to your first point, anmol.india, there is a common economic phrase that goes as follows, "Supply creates its own demand". I believe that if consumers who buy too much food consciously choose to consume less food (majority of which is imported) then supply "will have to find new consumers". These new consumers could be those who are malnourished who tend to be relatively poor. Since prices tend to fall when there is too much supply, this food may become more affordable. Another point is that statistically, a larger proportion of poverty exists in the countryside of less developed countries and this is often where the most severe cases of malnutrition occur. Ironically, much of the food that ends up on our plates is sourced from the same places where malnutrition is most prevalent and therefore, if we (the wealthy) consume less, then those who are in greater need of improved nutrition could potentially have more access to a variety of cheaper foods.

With regards to your second point about population growth, studies have shown that enough food and appropriate technology exist in the world to feed current and future populations, respectively. I would agree with population models that predict that as the level of education and income-earning potential improve, families tend to choose to have fewer children. This is however a gradual process and is demonstrated by the shrinking populations in Europe today. China's "one child policy" is an successful though extreme example of how policy can drastically slow population growth. Though I don't see this as a feasible option for many other countries. Of course, one must also remember that successful educational outcomes can't be achieved without good health and so good nutrition may be more important to secure before education.

To sum up, I think that if over-consumption of food is reduced then this may improve food security in countries with high levels of malnourishment.
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