The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) of the United Kingdom has issued a report saying we waste over a billion metric tons of food per year.
The report entitled “Global Food, Waste Not, Want Not” states we produce about four billion metric tons of food per year “Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30 to 50 percent (1.2 to 2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach.
The report defines three principle population groups: Fully developed, mature, post-industrial countries like those in Europe with stable or declining, aging populations; Late-stage developing nations such as China, industrializing rapidly, increasing affluence and will soon experience decelerating population growth and increasing median age; Newly developing countries, primarily in Africa, just beginning to industrialize, high population growths and a young population. The population of these countries is expected to double or even triple by 2050.
Food waste is different in the three groups, as nations become more developed, food loss moves further down the food chain. “In less-developed countries, such as those of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, wastage tends to occur primarily at the farmer-producer end of the supply chain. Inefficient harvesting, inadequate local transportation and poor infrastructure mean that produce is frequently handled inappropriately and stored under unsuitable farm-site conditions.” The report cites Vietnam as an example where 80 percent of the rice crop can be lost between production and table as opposed to China where 45 percent is lost.
In developed nations, efficient farming practices, better transportation, storage and processing facilities ensure a large portion of the food produced reaches the supermarket. Here the losses occur either by supermarkets rejecting produce because of physical attributes such as size or appearance or at home where consumers buy too much and end up throwing it out as it spoils. “Overall between 30 percent and 50 percent of what has been bought in developed countries is thrown away by the purchaser,” the report states.
In the end, the group says much of the waste could be eliminated if the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization works with the international engineering community to help developed countries share their “know-how and technology” in food harvest, transportation and processing with developing countries. They call on the governments of developing nations to accept and incorporate that know-how and technology. In addition, the engineers call for a change in thinking in developed nations to discourage wasteful practices that lead to the rejection of food for cosmetic reasons and losses in the home due to excessive purchases.
With the global population expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2075, saving 1.2 to 2 billion tons of food per year will go a long way in feeding those people.