NEW YORK — The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition issued its newest report, “Food losses and waste in the context of sustainable food systems,” this June. According to the Panel, the report aims to help reduce what is known as Food Loss and Waste (FLW), which although difficult to measure, is estimated to have risen to 1.3 billion tons of food per year. Even with the absence of a global standard measurement for FLW, the report highlights the issue as it appears in both wealthier nations, where FLW occurs more at distribution and consumption, and in poorer nations, where FLW occurs more at production and post-harvest levels.
Food loss refers to that of the pre-consumption level, and food waste to that of the consumption level. In terms of food loss, the panel has determined a poor harvest schedule, careless handling of produce and inadequate or lack of proper storage occur at the micro-level. Food producers may refuse to harvest all crops based on their anticipation of market conditions. With the same reasoning, producers may also over-harvest and retailers may over-buy in an attempt to meet market demand.
Structural causes include poor coordination and communication between producers and retailers, a lack of decent infrastructure and retail quality standards. When food reaches the market — especially in developed nations — retailers reject produce based on shape, weight and size, resulting in unnecessary waste rather than simply reducing the price of such products. Further, the report points to current methods of date labeling as confusing. Products often have dates for the retailer as well as the consumer. The wholesale supermarkets in poorer countries often store produce in small and unsanitary stores that lack the cooling equipment required to store large amounts of produce.
Scientists estimate the carbon footprint of FLW to have reached six to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas levels. The production of food that is eventually lost or wasted consumes 25 percent of fresh water usage, 300 million barrels of oil per year and 1.4 billion hectares of land annually. FLW, the Panel argues, lowers the amount of available food, raises prices and uses natural resources in an unsustainable way that increases food insecurity as a whole.
In conquering these areas of FLW, the Panel lists a number of recommendations at all levels of the food system. To individuals, the report cites the need to increase civic responsibility for lowering FLW and practice waste conscience practices such as taking home their uneaten food from restaurants. Farmers would ideally receive more education and end market-based practices that result in FLW. The report suggests producers and retailers clarify date labeling, rethink portion sizes and reduce quality standards. Governments, the Panel recommends, should incentivize reductions in FLW and encourage accountability via FLW audits.
With this in mind, the Panel believes everyone should take responsibility in reducing “Food losses and waste (FLW) [that]impact[s]both food security and nutrition and the sustainability of food systems, in their capacity to ensure good quality and adequate food for this generation and future generations.”
– Erica Lignell