A third of all food is wasted, say UN

Piles of discarded fruit at the Shelford Landfill, Recycling & Composting Centre near Canterbury. Picture: Getty
Piles of discarded fruit at the Shelford Landfill, Recycling & Composting Centre near Canterbury. Picture: Getty
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EVERY year about a third of all food produced for human consumption, around 1.3 billion tonnes, is wasted, along with all the energy, water and chemicals needed to produce it and dispose of it, the United Nations says in a report.

Almost 30 per cent of the world’s farmland, and a volume of water equivalent to the annual discharge of the River Volga, are in effect being used in vain.

The food agency’s director-general, Jose Graziano da Silva, told a press conference yesterday that “we simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go to waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices, when 870 million people go hungry every day”.

Achim Steiner, head of the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “This is a big wake-up call. We may not even have captured many of the more indirect impacts of food waste … and the costs which will be borne by our children and grandchildren.

“It will take less than 37 years to add another two billion people to the global population. How on earth will we feed ourselves in the future?”

Mr Steiner said eliminating food wastage had “enormous potential” to reduce hunger, and called on citizens to take individual action to tackle the issue.

“Each one of us has a role to play. Starting with the ridiculous phenomenon in wealthy countries of not buying crooked vegetables any more,” he said, adding that over-zealous observation of sell-by dates was also leading to huge quantities of food being thrown away.

In its report entitled “The Food Wastage Footprint”, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimated the carbon footprint of wasted food was equivalent to 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

If it were a country, it would be the world’s third biggest emitter after China and the United States, suggesting that more efficient food use could contribute substantially to global efforts to cut greenhouse gases to limit global warming.

In the industrialised world, much of the waste comes from consumers buying too much and throwing away what they do not eat. In developing countries, it is mainly the result of inefficient farming and a lack of proper storage facilities.

“Food wastage reduction would not only avoid pressure on scarce natural resources but also decrease the need to raise food production by 60 per cent in order to meet the 2050 population demand,” the FAO said.

It also said consumers in the developed world should be encouraged to serve smaller portions and make more use of leftovers. Businesses should give surplus food to charities, and develop alternatives to dumping organic waste in landfill.

The FAO estimated the cost of the wasted food, excluding fish and seafood, at about $750bn (£537bn) a year, based on producer prices.

The wasted food takes up about 1.4 billion hectares – much of it diverse natural habitat.