How can the earth support us if we throw away half our food?

Jan 10, 2013

Up to half of world's food is thrown away because of inefficiency and profligacy, says shock report

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UP TO HALF of the world's food - as much as 2 billion tonnes a year - is being thrown away according to a new report because of a combination of inefficient farming methods, poor storage, overly strict sell-by dates, bulk-buy offers and consumer fussiness.

The "staggering" figure comes in a report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. It says: "This is food that could be used to feed the world's growing population - as well as those in hunger today.

"It is also an unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food."

It is claimed that in Britain alone 7 million tonnes of food, worth more than £10 billion, is thrown away each year and up to 30 per cent of crops grown in the UK are never harvested because of their appearance and lack of attractiveness to customers.

Much of what is thrown away by consumers is perfectly edible and the Daily Mail says the report highlights "a throwaway consumer culture that undervalues food".

And it is not just the West that is at fault. "In developing countries the issue is one of storage rather than profligacy," explains the Mail.

Report author Dr Tim Fox said: "As water, land and energy resources come under increasing pressure from competing human demands, engineers have a crucial role to play in preventing food loss and waste by developing more efficient ways of growing, transporting and storing foods.

"But in order for this to happen, governments, development agencies and organisation like the UN must work together to help change people's mindsets on waste and discourage wasteful practices by farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers."

It is a message that must be heeded, writes Michael White in The Guardian. "The wider implications are scary. The planet faces the prospect of having to feed 9 to 10 billion people by 2050 – it's currently supporting 7 billion – and as agricultural experts have been reporting quite separately this week, the rise in extreme weather has damaged both the quantity of food harvested last year and (through lack of sunlight) its quality in some places, including Britain."

Campaign groups were up in arms over the report. "On a planet where over 1 billion of us, including over 4 million people in the UK, struggle to afford to eat, this is a social justice issue. We need to change the dialogue from self-interested consumer incentives to working with people to encourage them to fundamentally value food and want to take action to help others," said sustainability charity Waste Watch.

The findings have also led to questions bout other agricultural practices. One commenter on the Daily Telegraph website, called Rantindave, wrote: "We use pesticides and fertilisers to increase yields and this would be unnecessary if we ate more of what was grown. The move to GM crops is justified by the need for higher yields too. This would be unnecessary if infrastructure were improved in developing nations instead."

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