Thursday, 16 June 2011

Practical ways to reduce food waste

I know that this isn’t strictly a ‘soil and water’ issue but it’s one that is particularly important nonetheless.   If we are to successfully meet the challenges of feeding a growing population while better managing the farmed environment, combating food waste is an absolute priority in ensuring that more of what we grow ends up on our plates.

The January 2011 UK Government Foresight report, ‘The Future of Food and Farming’ estimates that as much as 30% of all food grown worldwide may be lost or wasted before and after it reaches the consumer.   Some estimates have placed this as high as 50%.

One of the recommendations of the report is to halve food waste by 2050, which is considered to be a realistic target.   According to the report, if the current global figure of 30% waste is assumed, this could reduce the food required by 2050 by an amount approximately equal to 25% of today’s production.

A recent report published for the FAO, ‘Global Food Losses and Food Waste’ offers a number of practical solutions which consumers and food supply chains need to adopt in order to make this happen.   Below I have listed the headline problems and solutions which are most relevant to consumers and food chains in the west but the full report, which describes these in more detail, is well worth a read.

In industrialized countries food gets lost when production exceeds demand.
Prevention: Communication and cooperation between farmers could reduce risk of overproduction by allowing surplus crops from one farm to solve a shortage of crops on another.

High ‘appearance quality standards’ from supermarkets for fresh products lead to food waste.
Prevention: Consumer surveys by supermarkets; surveys show that consumers are willing to buy heterogeneous produce as long as the taste is not affected.
Prevention: Sales closer to consumers.  Selling farm crops closer to consumers without having to pass strict quality standards set up by supermarkets would possibly reduce the amount of rejected crops.

‘Disposing is cheaper than using or re-using’ attitude in industrialized countries leads to food waste.
Prevention: develop commercial and charity markets for ‘sub-standard’ products that are still safe and of good taste and nutritional value.

Abundance and consumer attitudes lead to high food waste in industrialized countries.
Prevention: Public awareness to change people’s attitudes towards the current massive food waste.