Half of the World’s Food Is Wasted

January 11, 2013 in Food by Gina-Marie Cheeseman

126526910_a2cd2a71b8Up to half of the food produced globally ends up being wasted, according to a new report by the London-based Institute of Mechanical Engineers. Currently, the world produces about four billion metric tons of food per year, but it’s estimated that 30 to 50 percent of that is wasted (1.2 to two billion tons). The UN predicts that by 2075 the global population will be about 9.5 billion. That means an “extra three billion mouths to feed by the end of the century,” as the report points out.

The causes of food waste differ in developed and developing countries. In developed countries most food waste happens because of retail and customer behavior. Between 30 to 50 percent of all food bought in developed countries is thrown away by consumers. In developing countries, waste happens mostly at the farmer-producer end due to “inefficient harvest, inadequate local transportation and poor infrastructure,” according to the report.

“This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands.”

The report lists three recommendations to reduce food waste:

  • The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) needs to work with the international engineering community to help developed countries put programs in place that transfer engineering knowledge, design know-how and technology to developing countries.
  • Governments of rapidly developing countries need to incorporate waste minimization into the transport infrastructure and storage facilities that are being planned, engineered and built.
  • Governments of developing nations need to create policies that change consumer expectations, and discourage retailers from wasteful practices.

Reducing meat consumption to create more food

The report notes that as countries become more affluent, they consume more meat. During the second half of the 20th century, worldwide meat production increased roughly fivefold, and per capita meat consumption more than doubled. The per capita calorific intake from meat consumption is predicted to increase 40 percent by mid-century. Livestock require more water and energy than crops do, but produce less food. One hectare of land can produce rice or potatoes for 19 to 22 people a year, but only enough lamb or beef or one or two people. Beef production uses about 50 times more water than vegetables do. Plant crops require three calories of input to produce, while beef requires 35 calories.

Clearly, something needs to change, and that something is less meat consumption. A 2004 report by Compassion in World Farming Trust advocates for global meat consumption to decrease. For that to occur, food policy must change, and the report recommends two ways to change it. The first way to change food policy is through individuals taking actions as consumers and as active citizens and campaigners. The second way is through the decisions of policy makers.

If you are an individual interested in reducing your meat consumption, consider going meatless one day a week. Going meatless on Mondays is something that many people in the U.S. already do. The Monday Campaign, created by the John Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, started Meatless Monday. The website for Meatless Monday contains recipes so you can cook meat-free meals.

Photo: Flickr user, sporkist

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