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The issue of food waste has again been hitting the headlines. Of course, this is primarily a rich-world issue, but it has implications for the whole planet.
In late October, supermarket chain Tesco published a report highlighting waste in the supermarket supply chain. The document, quoting the FAO, said: “Food waste is an urgent global challenge. A recent report showed that 1.3 billion metric tons of food are wasted each year. This costs producers around GBP460 billion annually. It also puts pressure on the environment.”
I don’t know how many seminars, lectures and roundtables I’ve attended over the last few years where the same figures for the increase in the global population are trotted out and deep concern is expressed over how all these extra people are going to be fed. It seems a little odd to see the solution as increasing production, while at the same time throwing away what we already have.
Of course, different markets behave in different ways, and different foods are treated differently.
Tesco has said that the first step in tackling the problem is greater transparency and has published independently assured food waste data from its UK operation. In the first six months of this year, 28,500 metric tons of food were wasted in Tesco stores and distribution centers in the UK. Meat fish and poultry make up only 5 percent of this total, with bakery products making up the vast majority of food wasted and accounting for 41 percent of the total.
Of course, different markets behave in different ways and different foods are treated differently.
In the UK each year, 14.8 million metric tons of food are wasted. Worldwide, the figure is thought to be a staggering 1.3 billion metric tons, worth US$1 trillion annually. Of course the cost is not simply discarded food — think of the wasted resources, land, fertilizer, greenhouse gases, etc. coming from production and transport.
What are the long-term implications for such levels of waste? With a number of large developing nations seeing increases in their standards of living and a growing desire for a varied diet, the amount of food wasted, without action, will grow and grow, as will the associated costs.
Chilling and freezing, which is not applied to most bakery products, are no doubt a contributor to the much lower levels of waste for meat and poultry products, as well as the higher value of poultry products themselves.
But what struck me when reading this report was the contrast with how well animal protein is utilized in developing markets — where it is available. Our feature this month on Africa illustrates well how thoroughly a chicken is consumed when affordable. Once upon a time, it was a similar story in the rich world too.
Tesco’s examination of waste, which is simply one of many initiatives to reduce waste in the food sector, also reminded me of some the amazing developments that have taken place in the meat processing sector that allow more valuable protein to be recovered from poultry carcasses.
I have to say that I have marveled at some of the before-and-after demonstrations I have seen at trade shows. The thought and creativity that has been applied to some processing equipment means that more of a chicken is given value and not discarded, which has to be good for the producer and consumer alike, particularly when environmental costs are considered along the whole chain from farm to plate.
Food, after all, is the source of life and should be given the respect it deserves.