In the USA alone, half of the production of fruit and vegetables is dumped, just because they are not “perfect enough”. This is obscene, if we think that, in a climate change scenario, humanity needs more than ever to save food and water to avoid hunger and protect the environment
A few months ago, the media of both sides of the North Atlantic published the results of a research that was disturbing. It was based on an ample number of interviews with farmers, packers, wholesalers, truckers, food academics, campaigners and government officials, which stated that about a half of all the fruit and vegetables produced in the United States was either left to rot in a landfill, or was burnt in an incinerator.
We already knew that around the developed and the developing world an average of a third of the food is usually lost between the producer and the buyer (see box). What is really new is the huge scale of dumping, and the futile “reason” that seems to “explain” it: high-value and nutritious food is being sacrificed to the retailers’ demand for unattainable perfection. According to The Guardian, this “ideal”, added to the strong influence of just a few distribution chains—can turn into garbage a whole cargo if just a blemish is detected on a single piece.
The futility of such fastidious behaviour is stressed by the hunger inside the US, but also by the food crisis that affects so many millions in many places of the planet. If we add the environmental crisis and the climate change, it seems quite disgusting that, while rotting or being burnt, the gases sent into the atmosphere are one more nail in the “earth’s coffin”, the warming hothouse effect.
On a smaller scale, something similar happens in Europe, where the rules of the European Union also discard the smaller, bigger or blemished fruit and vegetables: in the supermarkets, they are supposed to have exactly the same appearance and quality. However, in a time of crisis, some exceptions have been made, and some chains sell cheaper, less perfect and often tastier products.
In more than one country, people are already implementing/practising justice. In Spain, for instance, the members of a recently created movement go to the fields to harvest the imperfect fruit and vegetables and deliver them to food banks that distribute them for free. The next step is the production of jams, soups and sauces. From the pickers to the needy, with no one in the middle, is a possible answer to the irresponsible rule makers and profiteers.
Right now, this is the global portrait of food waste, according to the UN’S Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):
Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year—approximately 1.3 billion tonnes—is lost or wasted.
- Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$680 billion in industrialized countries and US$310 billion in developing countries.
- Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food—respectively 670 and 630 million tonnes.
- Fruit and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
- Global quantitative food losses and waste per year are roughly 30% for cereals, 40–50% for root crops, fruit and vegetables, 20% for oil seeds, meat and dairy products plus 35% for fish.
- Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
- 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 tonnes in 2009/2010).
- Per capita waste by consumers is between 95–115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia, each throw away only 6–11 kg a year.
- Total per capita food production for human consumption is about 900 kg a year in rich countries, almost twice the 460 kg a year produced in the poorest regions.
- In developing countries, 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialized countries more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels.
- At retail level, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that overemphasize appearance.
- Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labour and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change.
- The food currently lost or wasted in Latin America could feed 300 million people.
- The food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people.
- The food currently lost in Africa could feed 300 million people.
- Even if just a quarter of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.
- Food losses during harvest and in storage translate into lost income for small farmers and into higher prices for poor consumers.
- In developing countries food waste and losses occur mainly in the 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. Strengthening the supply chain through the direct support of 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 behaviour of consumers plays a huge part in industrialized countries. The study identified a lack of co-ordination between actors in the supply chain as a contributing factor. Farmer-buyer agreements can be helpful to increase the level of co-ordination. Additionally, raising awareness among industries, retailers and consumers as well as finding beneficial use for food that is presently thrown away are useful measures to decrease the amount of losses and waste.