Likely more food waste than previously reported

A new report from the UK Institution of Mechanical Engineers finds that global wastage of food may be as much as 50% of production. The report projects that the needs of the growing population can be met largely, if not totally, through elimination of this waste.

In developing countries, food waste occurs primarily at the producer end of the supply chain due to inefficient harvesting, inadequate local transportation and poor infrastructure, resulting in produce that is frequently handled inappropriately and stored under unsuitable farm site conditions. In developed countries produce is often wasted through retail and customer behaviour. Perfectly edible produce is often rejected because it does not meet standards for size or appearance. Consumers are encouraged through promotions and packaging to purchase more than they can use.

Waste of food also means less than optimum land usage and significant waste of water and energy associated with food production.  The IME recommends:

1. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) works with the international engineering community to ensure governments of developed nations put in place programmes that transfer engineering knowledge, design know-how, and suitable technology to newly developing countries. This will help improve produce handling in the harvest, and immediate post-harvest stages of food production.

2. Governments of rapidly developing countries incorporate waste minimisation thinking into the transport infrastructure and storage facilities currently being planned, engineered and built.

3. Governments in developed nations devise and implement policy that changes consumer expectations. These should discourage retailers from wasteful practices that lead to the rejection of food on the basis of cosmetic characteristics, and losses in the home due to excessive purchasing by consumers.

A synopsis and the full report are available at http://www.imeche.org/knowledge/themes/environment/global-food?WT.mc_id=HP_130007

Gallon Letter’s feature on food waste in the June 2011 issue can be found at http://www.cialgroup.com/hrglv16n03.htm

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