New report decries food waste in developed and emerging countries

Lost The British engineering society estimates that 1.2 billion to two billion tonnes of food are wasted each year

Up to half of all the food produced worldwide ends up going to waste due to poor harvesting, storage, and transport methods as well as irresponsible retailer and consumer behaviour, according to a new report.

The world produces about four billion tonnes of food annually, but 1.2 billion to two billion tonnes are not eaten, says the study by the London-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

“This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue,” the report states.

In developed countries, like Britain, efficient farming methods, transport and storage mean that most of the wastage occurs through retail and customer behaviour.

Retailers produce 1.6 million tonnes of food waste a year because about 30 per cent of fruit and vegetables don’t meet exacting size and appearance criteria. As well, 30 to 50 per cent of what makes it to the grocery shelves in developed countries is thrown away by customers, often due to poor understanding of “best before” and “use by” dates.

A “use by” date is when there is a health risk associated with using food after that date. A “best before” date is more about quality — when it expires it does not necessarily mean food is harmful but it may lose some flavour and texture.

Promotional offers and bulk discounts also encourage shoppers to buy, and waste, more.

Rising population

In Britain, about $16.3 billion worth of food is thrown away from homes every year, but the situation is very different in less developed countries, where wastage mostly happens due to inefficient harvesting and poor handling and storage.

Southeast Asian countries, for example, lose anywhere from 37 to 80 per cent of their entire rice harvest, totalling about 180 million tonnes per year, the report said.

A rising global population — expected to peak at around 9.5 billion people by 2075 — will push up prices and make the practice of discarding edible fruit and vegetables on cosmetic grounds less economically viable, the report forecasts. But it argues governments should not wait for food pricing to trigger action on this wasteful practice, but produce policies that change consumer behaviour and dissuade retailers from operating in this way.

The report says developing countries should follow the example of China and Brazil, which have not only invested in infrastructure to move and store crops, but have also spent money to ensure they are efficient and well maintained.

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