Could we reduce waste?
UK households reportedly waste 25% of food items; what about US consumers?
A recent news report on the UK British Broadcasting Cooperation highlighted the extent of wasted food. This issue is of current concern in the UK and relates to the call by the minister responsible for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (analogous to our USDA) to enhance food production. It is possible that the UK, as with other EU nations, is beginning to experience the impact of a headlong flight into organic and "all natural" farming. This is in large measure dictated by stringent welfare and environmental regulation and restraints which have markedly lowered the efficiency of national production by embracing practices and technology reminiscent of the pre-depression period.
The author of the study indicated that 25% of produce and other food items purchased by households were wasted. Farm waste approached 25-40% mainly due to rejection of harvested fruit and vegetables on the basis of cosmetic deviations from stringent and unrealistic cosmetic standards imposed by the large UK supermarket chains. Purchasing practices by supermarkets encourage processors to over-produce and pack products in anticipation of orders. Because some of these items exceed their shelf life, they are disposed of. Penalties imposed for failure to deliver on time are severe, stimulating the wasteful practice.
It is evident that supermarkets which generate higher margins on premium items are disinclined to mark down cosmetically impaired agriculture products or foods which approach used-by dates. In many industrialized countries, supermarkets are contributing to food banks and it was noted that a leading chain, Sainsbury's, saves $80 per ton by donating produce to charities rather than paying for disposal on a landfill.
To avoid waste the UK broadcast program recommended that research should be extended to post-harvest preservation incorporating the latest technology in treatment and packaging. These innovations must be matched by a more realistic approach by supermarket chains representing the most important link between producers and consumers since they are responsible in large measure for wastage.
It would be a valuable exercise to conduct studies on wastage in the U.S., a nation known for its prodigious over consumption which imposes both environmental and financial implications.