Almost half of the world’s food thrown away, report finds
Figures from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers show as much as 2bn tonnes of food never makes it on to a plate
The UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) blames the “staggering” new figures in its analysis on unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one free and Western consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food, along with “poor engineering and agricultural practices”, inadequate infrastructure and poor storage facilities.
In the face of United Nations predictions that there could be about an extra 3 billion people to feed by the end of the century and growing pressure on the resources needed to produce food, including land, water and energy, the IMechE is calling for urgent action to tackle this waste.
Their report, Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not, found that between 30% and 50% or 1.2-2bn tonnes of food produced around the world never makes it on to a plate.
In the UK as much as 30% of vegetable crops are not harvested due to their failure to meet retailers’ exacting standards on physical appearance, it says, while up to half of the food that is bought in Europe and the US is thrown away by consumers.
And about 550bn cubic metres of water is wasted globally in growing crops that never reach the consumer. Carnivorous diets add extra pressure as it takes 20-50 times the amount of water to produce 1 kilogramme of meat than 1kg of vegetables; the demand for water in food production could reach 10–13 trillion cubic metres a year by 2050.
This is 2.5 to 3.5 times greater than the total human use of fresh water today and could lead to more dangerous water shortages around the world, the IMechE says, claiming that there is the potential to provide 60-100% more food by eliminating losses and waste while at the same time freeing up land, energy and water resources.
The reasons for the inequitable distribution of human nourishment, worldwide, are complex and hotly debated. Many regions of the world still don’t have reliable systems of distribution. Political corruption and corporate greed take their toll. Starvation has, true to Malthus’ predictions, never been eradicated. We’ve had the means to solve the worldwide hunger problem but, apparently, not the motivation. Our agricultural tools have been equal to this task for several decades, but our political devices have fallen short. In the wealthy parts of the world people have never, seemingly, been sufficiently inspired to overcome the challenges of feeding those in the Earth’s poorer neighborhoods. It is clearly not a simple matter to distribute surplus Iowa corn to the pantries of drought-famished Africa. Evidence would suggest that good nutrition, worldwide, is not impossible, only improbable. And contemporary phenomena like climate change and population growth only make that challenge more vexing.
As the planet becomes more heavily populated with human beings, lines of communication become more efficient. As we’ve become more crowded, we’ve also become more aware, generally, of the circumstances of human life worldwide. Today’s poor Mexican laborer knows that the price of his tortillas goes up when ethanol producers in the United States put new demands on the grain supply. The soccer mom in New England fills the fuel tank on her minivan with at least a general awareness that she’s having an effect on the global economy. Suddenly we’re conscious that our decision to drive a 12-mile-per-gallon SUV may increase food prices for a poor family somewhere, straining to buy a few pounds of grain.