Wasted food and carbon footprint

Written By: - Date published: 12:34 pm, August 6th, 2016 - 17 comments
Categories: climate change, farming, food, global warming, sustainability - Tags: , , ,

Last month I found this story pretty staggering. I always knew that “Western” countries threw away too much food – but – half?

Half of all US food produce is thrown away, new research suggests

The demand for ‘perfect’ fruit and veg means much is discarded, damaging the climate and leaving people hungry

Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a “cult of perfection”, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.

Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards, according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials.

By one government tally, about 60m tonnes of produce worth about $160bn (£119bn), is wasted by retailers and consumers every year – one third of all foodstuffs.

But that is just a “downstream” measure. In more than two dozen interviews, farmers, packers, wholesalers, truckers, food academics and campaigners described the waste that occurs “upstream”: scarred vegetables regularly abandoned in the field to save the expense and labour involved in harvest. Or left to rot in a warehouse because of minor blemishes that do not necessarily affect freshness or quality.

When added to the retail waste, it takes the amount of food lost close to half of all produce grown, experts say. …

It’s not recent, and it’s not just America (2013):

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

As much as half of all the food produced in the world – equivalent to 2bn tonnes – ends up as waste every year, engineers warned in a report published on Thursday.

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. …

This has to change (“Give me spots on my apples – But leave me the birds and the bees – Please!”). And it’s an easy win in the urgent need to reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture and other human activities (see Bill’s excellent series on this).

The Italian intiaitive reported in The Herald yesterday is a great idea and we should adopt it here:

Italy passes law encouraging supermarkets to give unsold food to needy

The Italian government has overwhelmingly backed a new set of laws aimed at cutting down the vast amounts of food wasted in the country each year.

A bill passed by 181 Senators will encourage families to use “doggy bags” to take home unfinished food after eating out and removes hurdles for farmers and supermarkets seeking to donate food to charity.

The goal to cut the five million tonnes of food wasted every year by at least one million tonnes was only opposed by two Senators and abstained from by one when put to a vote in Italy’s upper house on 2 August.

Ministers have said that food waste is costing Italy’s business and households more than €12 billion (£10 billion) a year, or about 1 per cent of GDP. …

Helps the poor, reduces waste, win win. But it’s just a start. We need to massively change attitudes and behaviour to reduce food waste.

17 comments on “Wasted food and carbon footprint”

  1. I didn’t realize it was so bad. Makes a mockery of the ‘not enough food, we can’t feed everybody’ brigade. I despair for the hunan race sometimes.

  2. RedLogix 2

    The system always needed ‘disposable’ people in order to work. It’s taken different forms over the ages, from human sacrifice, slavery, institutionalised warfare, debt and servitude. But it’s always there as part of the background of our lives and most of the time we stop noticing it.

    • r0b 2.1

      Time to notice it now!

      • Colonial Viper 2.1.1

        which political party or economic force is willing to restructure the economy in a way which does away with treating people as disposable?

        To do that, you would have to go directly against the short term economic interests of the top 1% to 2%, and especially of the top 0.1%.

        • Hmmm, humans not being disposable and long-term policy against the interests of the wealthy elite… I swear, it’s like I’m at a Green Party meeting. 😛

    • ropata 2.2

      the parasitic elite is unsustainable, it’s their system, a different model is possible, but it will be a struggle to get there.

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    Capitalism and it’s huge amount of waste strike again. Can’t maintain prices if there’s an excess of food available.

    • ropata 3.1

      Artificial scarcity is needed to perpetuate economic crimes against the poor. They are externalities in the quest for profit.

      No rush to solve the housing crisis in Auckland either. Empty green belts in Christchurch help to prop up inner city land values.

      Privatised power companies, telcos, and Aussie banks are making record profits though.

  4. red-blooded 4

    Just picking up on one part of this discussion: one way to help in meeting “the urgent need to reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture and other human activities” is to opt out of raising animals for food production. Agriculture is a terrible use of land, water, space, soil, nutrient and other resources; is very polluting and has an awful carbon footprint. It’s also cruel. We don’t need to do it.

    Note, I’ve included the report from Time (which links on to a second report on the environmental impacts of dairy consumption) to show that even those who argue that animal farming needs to be more “efficient” (cruel) agree that the only real way to control the environmental effects of agriculture is for people to eat less meat.

    Of course, more people becoming vegetarian or vegan won’t stop people wanting cosmetically perfect fruit, but it would be another way of decreasing environmental and social harms caused by attitudes to food, and it’s an issue that each person reading this site can actually do something meaningful about.

    • Leftie 4.1

      Been a vegetarian over half of my life and have never regretted it. Not only is being vegetarian a simpler way of life, it can be more economical too. Some of my meat eating friends that have growing families are having to have meatless days during the week, because they are finding the cost of meat too expensive.

  5. Leftie 5

    Yes, this is a great initiative, was just thinking about this the other day. I hate food wastage, and there is a hell of lot of that going on in NZ. I would like to see a similar law that Italy has passed, introduced here.

  6. Rocco Siffredi 6

    Food is cheaper now than it has ever been.

    • Leftie 6.1

      Food in NZ is very expensive Rocco Siffredi, what makes you think food is cheaper now than it has ever been? A lot of people trying to make their dollars stretch at the supermarket may disagree with you.

    • mosa 6.2

      Rocco food would including healthy options be even more affordable without the 15% GST levy that goes up to give the rich more of their money back because they need it.
      Yeah attitudes need too change in NZ about a lot of things including the myth that having two main supermarket companies in a deregulated enviroment somehow makes food even cheaper which is bullshit.
      At least the Italians make a decision and get on with it ,we would still be arguing the merits in 5 years time wasting this precious resource by another million tonnes in the meantime.

    • The New Student 6.3

      Might seem cheap because of cheap labour. For instance: bananas.

      I’m glad that story is in the mainstream at the moment. Maybe it might help connect the dots for a few of us

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