10 January 2013
A new report released today demonstrates almost half of the world’s food is thrown away - whilst 1 billion people go hungry. Our response includes three important suggestions for policy makers to get to grips with in 2013.
The new report: Global Food: Waste not Want by the Institute for Mechanical Engineers estimates that between 30 and 50% of food produced across the world ends up being thrown away. This news is not new, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has long tracked these measurements reaching a similar conclusion.
In the developing world, this wastage occurs as a result of a lack of infrastructure to store and transport food from source to destination without spoilage. In the western world, including the UK, we waste high amounts of food for many reasons. This includes excessive marketing and discounting, meaning we buy more food than we’d use before it spoils; outdated food policies that have led to volatility in prices; consumers not valuing the food they buy, and the rejection of food from farms that does not reach ridiculous cosmetic standards imposed by government and supermarkets.
There are three key findings within this report that Waste Watch (part of Keep Britain Tidy) fully support and believe need greater attention by governments and institutions across the world. Starting in the UK in our kitchens.
Firstly, with global populations expected to reach 9.5 billion people by 2075 we’ll have a lot of extra mouths to feed. In 2013 when 1 billion are going hungry, a further 1 billion not receiving the basic nutritional requirements for life, and a further 1 billion suffering from obesity, we appear to be failing almost half of the current global population. The standard governmental policy response, for example DEFRA’s Green Food Report, calls for increases in food production and making production more environmentally sustainable. Whilst we do not disagree, in a world where we produce more food than we need, the major failings of our food system are on the distribution and consumption side of the supply chain, as backed up by the report released today.
Producing more food alone will inevitably lead to more food being wasted and the same situation that occurs today. Namely: people that can afford to eat, eat well, but they waste more and prices will increase whilst those that cannot afford to eat go hungry.
This leads us to the second key message – how do we engage consumers better to enable pro-environmental behaviours? We believe this needs to go beyond the current trend of messages that focus solely upon saving consumers money. What Global Food: Waste not, Want not does well is to link issues around food waste with the global food system, i.e. it makes the connection that when we waste food it could have otherwise been eaten by others. On a planet where over 1 billion of us, including over 4 million people in the UK, struggle to afford to eat, this is a social justice issue. We need to change the dialogue from self-interested consumer incentives to working with people to encourage them to fundamentally value food and want to take action to help others.
Finally, the government has never sought to reduce food waste originating from farms as a result of supermarkets not taking perfectly edible food, due to cosmetic reasons. This has never been acted upon primarily because it is not classified as ‘waste’. Waste has to have a ‘waste carriers licence’ used to move and track waste moved around the UK towards landfill or incineration. If farm food waste is rejected, it is ploughed back into the field (deeply wasteful) or fed to animals (slightly better but still very inefficient). It is never categorised as ‘waste’ and therefore is not seen through governmental figures as an issue. Global Food: Waste not, Want not recognises that up to 30% of food grown on farms is needlessly thrown away. Isn’t it high time we put some attention into reducing food waste from the farm that could help reduce increasing levels of food poverty in the UK, by enabling access to cheaper fruit and vegetables for consumers?
If the government could start to address these three issues in 2013 it would be a major step forward to sorting out our broken food system, making it more environmentally sustainable whilst simultaneously enabling people to eat better food.