About a third of all the food produced for human consumption each year – or roughly 1.3 billion tons – is lost or wasted, according to a new study commissioned by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The study, compiled by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology and unveiled today, finds that food waste is more of a problem in rich countries and food loss during production is a bigger issue in poor countries because of poor infrastructure and technology.
Consumers and retailers in industrialized countries waste an estimated 222 million tons of food each year, mostly by throwing away perfectly edible food. Fruits and vegetables have the highest rates of wastage.
The average consumer in Europe and North America wastes 95 to 115 kilograms of food a year, while his or her counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia or South-East Asia wastes only six to 11 kilograms of food.
The report outlines steps to reduce waste, noting that surveys consistently show consumers are willing to buy foods that are safe and taste good even if their appearance does not meet some standards.
Selling farm produce direct to consumers, without having to go through supermarkets and their over-emphasis on the appearance of foods, is another recommendation.
Charities should work with retailers to collect and then distribute or on-sell food that would otherwise be thrown away, despite meeting standards of safety, taste and nutrition.
The report also calls for a change in consumer attitudes to encourage them to not buy more food than they need at any one time and to not throw food away needlessly.
For poorer countries, the report recommends measures to strengthen the food supply chain post-harvest, noting that many farmers miss out on valuable income because food is lost during harvest or in subsequent storage.
“The private and public sectors should also invest more in infrastructure, transportation and in processing and packaging,” the report also states.