The tipping point
In the blog post ‘the Tipping Point’ we wrote about transitions – from plentiful plastic bags in supermarkets to none, from murmurings about climate change to the shouts of young people, and from our ‘traditional’ sources of proteins to novel plant-based ones. In a similar vein; we are interested in when there will be a ‘tipping point’, or global, robust conversation about the amount of food the world wastes: specifically, the amount of food that is lost before it even gets to the consumer.
Global food losses and food waste = sobering reading
In 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) released a report on Global Food Losses and Food Waste. It makes for sobering reading. The report looks at where food loss occurs (with food waste generally defined as what occurs after food gets into the hands of the consumer). Where food is lost differs according to the level of development of the country – with less developed countries most loss occurs during production through to transportation, with more developed countries greater wastage occurs at the consumer level.
The loss of food has many ramifications, including the wastage of scare resources of production, food insecurity (insufficient food), environmental impact of production, loss of income, and the disposal of ‘unwanted’ food products. The statistics in the 2011 report are a call to action.
Investigating where food loss occurs
Five different sectors of the supply chain were investigated for six commodity groups: cereals, roots and tubers, oilseeds and pulses, fruits and vegetables, meat, fish and seafood, and milk products. Digging down on just one category: fruit and vegetable (which along with roots and tubers was the largest loss category across all geographical regions) the losses are truly staggering. In Europe (including Russia), 37% of fruit and vegetables produced are lost prior to reaching the consumer level. North America and Oceania are no better with a 38% loss. The greatest losses, however, are in sub-Saharan Africa, where 61% is lost, and similarly, in North Africa where 62% are lost. Interestingly, the percentage lost evens up for sub-Saharan Africa and North America and Oceania when you add in the consumer level – little is lost in sub-Saharan Africa by consumers, conversely in North America and Oceania, consumers waste a further 28% of fruit and vegetables.
Less-than-optimal supply chain
The numbers paint a picture of supply chains that are less than optimal – ones that allow loss at all levels of production. But, with the dismal numbers comes some optimism. The development and deployment of technologies to facilitate transition through the supply chain will result in increased food availability, with the addition of minimal new resources of production; for example, where loss occurs at the distribution level (12% in the case of fruit and vegetables in North America/Oceania) there is the opportunity to improve how retailers handle, sort and store food to reduce loss. Arguably, however the motivation to address loss is less in North America/Oceania than in sub-Saharan Africa where losses at the distribution level are around 17% and food insecurity is one of highest in the world. In that region, 23% of people are undernourished compared with 7% in Oceania and less than 2.5% in North America.
There is no doubt that there is a conversation needed about climate change and the ability to feed the world but, alongside this, consideration must be given to how we maximise the use of the resources we are currently using, to make sure that every possible apple is eaten, every fish caught makes it to a consumer, and every litre of milk is fit for consumption (and consumed).