Addressing Global Food Waste (Online Exclusive) Ken Marsh | July 2011, Volume 65, No.7

About 1.3 billion tons of food are lost or wasted annually, and industrialized nations waste more food than developing countries. Encouraging households to reduce their volume of food waste and separate discarded food from the municipal waste stream for composting offers the potential to cut food waste and ultimately total municipal waste costs.

About one-third of the food produced globally for human consumption is lost or wasted, representing about 1.3 billion tons annually, according to studies presented at the recent Save Food International Congress co-sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and interpak 2011 trade fair. It is not sufficient to produce enough food to feed 6 billion people (world production can do that); that food must be available to those who need it.

The Save Food International Congress indicates a growing awareness of what happens to food after its harvested, and that food and packaging technologies can help reduce those losses. interpack is the largest packaging show in the world and includes an exhibition of processing and packaging equipment and materials. The 2011 show attracted 166,000 visitors from over 100 countries. Organizing the Save Food International Congress at interpack, therefore, represents a significant effort to build awareness of post-harvest efforts to reduce food losses.

Developed versus Developing Nations
A perhaps surprising finding is that “on a per-capita basis, much more food is wasted in the industrialized world than in developing countries,” reports the Global Food Losses and Food Waste study. “We estimate that the per capita food waste by consumers in Europe and North America is 95–115 kg/year, while this figure in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia is only 6–11 kg/year.”

Food losses in the developing world tend to be related to financial, managerial, and technical limitations of food distribution between the farmer and the consumer. In contrast, food losses and waste in the developed world mainly relate to consumer behavior and “lack of coordination between different actors in the supply chain.” An example of the latter is much food is wasted because of quality standards that reject produce on the basis of size, shape, or color—factors that have nothing to do with safety.

Endorsed by IFT, the Global Harmonization Initiative (http://www.globalharmonization.net) was formed to promote food regulations based on food safety and to eliminate regulations that lead to destruction of tons of food for non-safety issues. This paper addresses post-consumer food waste.

Consumers in the developed world waste vast quantities of food (Figure 1). Much food is discarded because it has reached its “best if used by” date (or variant). One speaker at the Congress asked if people throw out a TV set after its warrantee expires. No one wants to eat unsafe food, but most of the food discarded or not purchased and discarded is not based on safety. In fact, most foodborne illness reported in the media reflects food that was contaminated before packaging.

Consumers also often underestimate how much food they throw out. The German Federal Minister of Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Ilse Aigner, presented a challenge to the audience at the Congress to find a way to increase consumer awareness of food waste and work towards reducing food discards. I wish to offer a response to that challenge based on two existing programs that encourage awareness and recycling of resources.

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