Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Tackling Food Waste

Faced with the challenges of demographic developments, climate change and the need to use resources efficiently, combating food losses and food waste will go a long way in tackling food security.
Global agricultural production is expected to grow 1.5% a year on average over the coming decade, compared with annual growth of 2.1% between 2003 and 2012, according to a new report published by the OECD and FAO.
Limited expansion of agricultural land, rising production costs, growing resource constraints and increasing environmental pressures are the main factors behind the trend. But the report argues that farm commodity supply should keep pace with global demand.
The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2013-2022 expects prices to remain above historical averages over the medium term for both crop and livestock products due to a combination of slower production growth and stronger demand, including for biofuels.
The report says agriculture has been turned into an increasingly market-driven sector, as opposed to policy-driven as it was in the past, thus offering developing countries important investment opportunities and economic benefits, given their growing food demand, potential for production expansion and comparative advantages in many global markets.
However, production shortfalls, price volatility and trade disruption remain a threat to global food security. The OECD/FAO Outlook warns: “As long as food stocks in major producing and consuming countries remain low, the risk of price volatility is amplified. A wide-spread drought such as the one experienced in 2012, on top of low food stocks, could raise world prices by 15-40 percent.”
China, with one-fifth of the world’s population, high income growth and a rapidly expanding agri-food sector, will have a major influence on world markets, and is the special focus of the report. China is projected to remain self-sufficient in the main food crops, although output is anticipated to slow in the next decade due to land, water and rural labor constraints.
Driven by growing populations, higher incomes, urbanization and changing diets, consumption of the main agricultural commodities will increase most rapidly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, followed by Latin America and other Asian economies.
The share of global production from developing countries will continue to increase as investment in their agricultural sectors narrows the productivity gap with advanced economies. Developing countries, for example, are expected to account for 80 percent of the growth in global meat production and capture much of the trade growth over the next 10 years. They will account for the majority of world exports of coarse grains, rice, oilseeds, vegetable oil, sugar, beef, poultry and fish by 2022. To capture a share of these economic benefits, governments will need to invest in their agricultural sectors to encourage innovation, increase productivity and improve integration in global value chains, FAO and OECD stressed.
Agricultural policies need to address the inherent volatility of commodity markets with improved tools for risk management while ensuring the sustainable use of land and water resources and reducing food loss and waste.
Food Waste Estimates
Food losses and food waste occur in every part of the world. However, according to the FAO, in developing countries over 40% of these losses take place in the post-harvest and processing stages, whereas in industrialized countries they occur chiefly in the distribution and consumption stages.
In developing and low-income countries, the bulk of losses occur in the production and post harvest stage owing to financial resources insufficient to improve existing infrastructure.
In industrialized countries, however, the problem is more behavioral in nature. In recent decades in the EU, rising agricultural productivity has made it possible to guarantee a reasonably priced food supply for the public. This development, coupled with a rise in disposable income, has had the effect of slashing the proportion of people's budget that is spent on food. This trend can partly explain the increase in consumer waste. Sociological reasons such as changes in family structure or lifestyle are also contributing factors in food waste.
According to estimates by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the impact of food waste is not just financial. Environmentally, food waste leads to wasteful use of chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides; more fuel used for transportation; and more rotting food, creating more methane – one of the most harmful greenhouse gases that contributes to climate change. Methane is 23 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. The vast amount of food going to landfills makes a significant contribution to global warming.
Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted.
Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons).
The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world's annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tons in 2009/2010).
Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labor and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change.
In developing countries food waste and losses occur mainly at early stages of the food value chain and can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques as well as storage –and cooling facilities. Thus, a strengthening of the supply chain through the support farmers and investments in infrastructure, transportation, as well as in an expansion of the food –and packaging industry could help to reduce the amount of food loss and waste.
In medium- and high-income countries food is wasted and lost mainly at later stages in the supply chain. Differing from the situation in developing countries, the behavior of consumers plays a huge part in industrialized countries. Moreover, the study identified a lacking coordination between actors in the supply chain as a contributing factor. Farmer-buyer agreements can be helpful to increase the level of coordination. Additionally, raising awareness among industries, retailers and consumers as well as finding beneficial use for save food that is presently thrown away are useful measures to decrease the amount of losses and waste.
In the United States 30% of all food, worth $48.3 billion, is thrown away each year. It is estimated that about half of the water used to produce this food also goes to waste, since agriculture is the largest human use of water.
United Kingdom households waste an estimated 6.7 million tons of food every year, around one third of the 21.7 million tons purchased. This means that approximately 32% of all food purchased per year is not eaten. Most of this (5.9 million tons or 88%) is currently collected by local authorities. Most of the food waste (4.1 million tons or 61%) is avoidable and could have been eaten had it been better managed.
In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions.
Up to 50% of food gets wasted in EU households, supermarkets, restaurants and along the food supply chain each year, while 79 million EU citizens live beneath the poverty line and 16 million depend on food aid from charitable institutions.
Currently food wastage amounts in the EU to 89 million tons per annum (i.e. 179 kg per capita) and the projection for 2020 – if no action is taken – is 126 million tons (i.e. a 40% increase).
Asia-Pacific Campaign
While hunger is the world’s number one health risk, about one third of food for human consumption is lost or wasted globally each year. In addition, when food is wasted, all of the resources that were put into its production are lost. Not only are these increasingly scarce resources, such as water and fuel, lost, but greenhouse gas emissions are also associated with the disposal of food.
Therefore, food wastage represents a missed opportunity to feed the growing world population, a major waste of resources and a needless source of greenhouse gas emissions that impacts climate change. It also has negative economic consequences for everyone along the food chain when food goes to waste.
Denouncing the huge amount of food that goes to waste, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, Hiroyuki Konuma, recently announced a new initiative aimed at stopping post-harvest food losses and market-to-consumer food waste.
"The Save Food Asia-Pacific Campaign seeks to raise awareness about the high levels of food losses - particularly post-harvest losses - and the growing problem of food waste in the region," Konuma said.
"FAO estimates that if the food wasted or lost globally could be reduced by just one quarter, this would be sufficient to feed the 870 million people suffering from chronic hunger in the world," said Konuma.
The announcement came as Konuma opened the two-day High-Level Multi-Stakeholder Consultation on Food Losses and Food Waste in Asia and the Pacific Region in collaboration with the Asian Institute of Technology and other partners.
More than 130 participants from 20 countries attended the Consultation, including four Agriculture Ministers. The Consultation will study ways to reduce food loss and waste and is expected to issue a communiqué outlining actions that can save food from farm to table.
According to Konuma, "The world produces more or less sufficient food to meet the demand of its current population of 7 billion. However, 12.5 percent of the global population, or 868 million people, equivalent to one in eight people, go hungry every day. In 2012, the Asia-Pacific region was home to 536 million hungry people, or 62 percent of the world's undernourished."
The Asia-Pacific region benefitted from rapid economic growth in the first decade of the 21st century. But, successful economic growth did not alleviate hunger and poverty, because the benefits of economic growth were unevenly distributed, resulting in a widening income gap in many countries in the region.
According to statistics from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, an estimated 653 million people across the region, lived below the national poverty line in 2010.
There is no doubt that win the context of Asia and the Pacific Region, more effort is needed to raise global awareness of the critical issue of food losses and particularly post-harvest losses as well as food waste, which is a is increasing nowadays.
American Initiative
In June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, calling on others across the food chain—including producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities, and other government agencies − to join the effort to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste.
Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe were joined at the event by representatives from private-sector partners and supporters including Rio Farms, Unilever, General Mills, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, Feeding America, and Rock and Wrap It Up!.
Food waste in the United States is estimated at roughly between 30 to 40 percent of the food supply. In 2010, an estimated 133 billion pounds of food from U.S. retail food stores, restaurants, and homes never made it into people's stomachs. The amount of uneaten food in homes and restaurants was valued at almost $390 per U.S. consumer in 2008, more than an average month's worth of food expenditures.
"The United States enjoys the most productive and abundant food supply on earth, but too much of this food goes to waste," said Secretary Vilsack. "Not only could this food be going to folks who need it – we also have an opportunity to reduce the amount of food that ends up in America's landfills. By joining together with EPA and businesses from around the country, we have an opportunity to better educate folks about the problem of food waste and begin to address this problem across the nation."
"Food waste the single largest type of waste entering our landfills -- Americans throw away up to 40 percent of their food. Addressing this issue not only helps with combating hunger and saving money, but also with combating climate change: food in landfills decomposes to create potent greenhouse gases," said EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. "I'm proud that EPA is joining with USDA today to announce the U.S. Food Waste Challenge. With the help of partners across the country, we can ensure that our nation's food goes to our families and those in need – not the landfill."
The goal of the U.S. Food Waste Challenge is to lead a fundamental shift in how we think about and manage food and food waste in this country. The Challenge includes a goal to have 400 partner organizations by 2015 and 1,000 by 2020.
As part of its contribution to the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, USDA is initiating a wide range of activities including activities to reduce waste in the school meals program, educate consumers about food waste and food storage, and develop new technologies to reduce food waste. USDA will also work with industry to increase donations from imported produce that does not meet quality standards, streamline procedures for donating wholesome misbranded meat and poultry products, update U.S. food loss estimates at the retail level, and pilot-test a meat-composting program to reduce the amount of meat being sent to landfills from food safety inspection labs.
Through its Food Recovery Challenge, EPA will provide U.S. Food Waste Challenge participants with the opportunity to access data management software and technical assistance ( to help them quantify and improve their sustainable food management practices.
European Initiative
In July, representatives from across Europe’s food supply chain announced the launch of a joint effort to tackle the major societal problem of food wastage via the publication of their Joint Declaration entitled, ‘Every Crumb Counts’.
Launched at an event in Brussels in the presence of distinguished speakers from the European Parliament, the European Commission, a number of NGOs and industry representatives, co-signatories of the Declaration aim not only to work towards preventing edible food waste but also to promote a life-cycle approach to reducing wastage and to proactively input into European, national and global solutions and initiatives in this area.
With the long-term sustainability of the food chain foremost in mind, and conscious of the global environmental impact of food disposal such as an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, co-signatories commit to contribute to the objective of reducing food wastage throughout the entire food supply chain, in line with the European Commission’s goal of halving edible food waste by 2020, set out in the Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative ‘A resource-efficient Europe’.  Furthermore, the Joint Declaration explores how new markets and better food recovery can contribute to economic growth.
Lending his support to the initiative, Matthias Groote MEP, Chair of the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, said: "Food wastage does not only have a big impact on the global food situation, but also significant economic and ecologic consequences. I welcome the launch of the Joint Stakeholder Declaration […] which seeks to raise awareness of food waste and of solutions to tackle this issue, and of the presentation of the new online toolkit for manufacturers.  Policymakers, companies and consumers all have to be part of the solution".
Speaking on the occasion of the launch, representatives of the several co-signatory organizations emphasized the importance of the initiative:
FoodDrinkEurope President, Jesús Serafín Pérez said: “We are encouraged by the degree of support that the Joint Food Wastage Declaration, ‘Every Crumb Counts’ has received so far; it is our hope that this will be rolled out effectively not only among actors along the food supply chain, but also by other groups, thereby contributing significantly to the flagship EU 2020 Goal for a resource-efficient Europe. FoodDrinkEurope is pleased also to announce the launch of its new Food Waste Industry Toolkit , ‘Maximizing food resources: A Toolkit for food manufacturers on avoiding food wastage’, developed to help food manufacturers reduce and prevent food waste by sharing best practice and guidance throughout the industry”.
Virginia Janssens, Managing Director of EUROPEN added: “As part of the food supply chain, EUROPEN (packaging supply chain) members are committed to further contribute to food waste prevention. Packaging is part of the solution as it prevents food spoilage for longer and ensures food quality and safety along the supply chain and at home, also informing consumers on best use and storage of packaged food products. Further investments in packaging innovation and technologies, such as in the areas of active and intelligent packaging, increasing shelf-life and portion sizes, play a key role.”
Isabel Jonet, President of the European Federation of Foodbanks (FEBA) commented: “Recovering edible food before it is destroyed and redistributing it to beneficiary charities which take care of deprived people is the ‘raison d’être’ of our network of 253 food banks in 21 European countries. FEBA thoroughly supports this Joint Declaration on Food Wastage as we are convinced that building stronger cooperation between food banks and FoodDrinkEurope members is a very efficient and proven way to reduce food waste and hunger simultaneously”.
Mark Linehan, Managing Director of the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) said: “The SRA welcomes and supports this Declaration as it addresses one of the most important global issues of our time. Food wastage has an enormous social, environmental and economic impact, so reducing it should be a no-brainer for restaurants, especially as we know from research that it is something diners care about deeply. Many restaurants are already taking significant steps, and we would urge those that are not, to take action now, for the benefit of the planet, food security and their bottom line.”
Rocco Renaldi, Secretary General of FoodServiceEurope commented: “Reducing food waste is a real challenge, especially in the just-in-time environment of the contract catering sector. But it is an environmental, economic and ethical imperative that we play our part. FoodServiceEurope is proud to join food manufacturers and others in what we hope will become a food chain approach to food waste reduction.”
Frédéric Rosseneu, Secretary General of Europatat said: “We recognize the importance of the current societal and political debate regarding food wastage. Whilst potatoes which cannot be sold fresh are generally used for processing or animal feed, our involvement in the Joint Declaration aims to raise further awareness about the issue and to exchange best practices in the supply chain but and towards the consumer."
Philippe Binard, General Delegate of Freshfel Europe noted: “Food wastage is a highly complex issue which requires the involvement of all partners in the supply chain in order to tackle it effectively and not just shift it further up or down in the chain. This has been the key driver for Freshfel’s participation in the Joint Declaration. There’s no silver bullet solution, but we hope the increased awareness and exchange of best practices within the fruit and vegetable category will help to reduce the level of wastage across the chain.”
Ingrid Verschueren, Packaging Division Manager of EuPC said: “Roughly one third of the edible portions of food produced for human consumption are never eaten and that is unacceptable. Plastic packaging can play a significant role in reducing this number and that is why EuPC is welcoming and supporting the ‘Every Crumb Counts’ Declaration”.
Today, companies are beginning to understand the social, environmental, and economic costs of food waste and starting to recognize the benefits of reducing waste or diverting it to better uses. These opportunities can be pursued through innovation, collaboration, and leadership.