Reducing food waste: A key element in feeding billions more people

April 10, 2013

John Floros, former IFT President and Dean of Agriculture & Director of KSRE at Kansas State University, shared insight in how to reduce food loss in the keynote talk at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

“We will need another ‘Green Revolution’ to feed the world by 2050,” said John Floros, referring to the development of high-yield, disease-resistant breeds of grain and other agricultural innovations that took root in the 1960s. “That will mean scientific innovations, such as new strains of the big three grains—rice, wheat, and corn—adapted for a changing climate and other conditions. It also will require action to reduce a terrible waste of food that gets too little attention.”

Floros cited estimates that in many developing countries up to half of the food harvested from farmers’ fields is lost before reaching consumers. That waste can occur due to spoilage from improper storage of grain during transportation or from pests. Rats and mice alone eat or spoil 20% of the world’s food supply due to contamination with their urine and feces.

“A different kind of waste occurs in the United States and some other developed countries,” said Floros. “Developed countries have much more efficient systems for preserving, storing, transporting, and protecting food from spoilage and pests. But as a nation—households, supermarkets, restaurants, other foodservice providers—we throw away about 4 out of every 10 lbs of food produced each year.”

Government studies show, for instance, that the average family in the United States throws away 20 lbs of food a month, more than $2,000 worth every year for a family of four. It includes food that has gone uneaten and spoiled in refrigerators and on pantry shelves, as well as food that people throw away after cooking. Uneaten food actually rivals paper, plastic, and other refuse as the number one material in some municipal landfills.

Several other food-related challenges lie ahead, Floros explained. Water, for instance, is becoming scarcer, as is fertile farmland. Global climate change may stress those resources even further. The demand for sustainable energy may divert more cropland to production of crops for biofuel production. Economic conditions threaten less investment in agricultural research and development. Drought and other extreme weather could impact food production. And consumption of too much food and less nutritious foods underpins epidemics in obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“We’re not doing enough to resolve these complex issues that are critical for providing 9–10 billion people with a nutritious diet,” said Floros. “Consumers, industry, universities, and governments all need to pitch in. The first step is more awareness of these issues and the need for action on multiple levels of society.”

To learn more about how food science makes a difference in sustainably feeding a growing population, check out IFT's World Without Food Science page.

Press release