A new study of food waste at primary production level in the U.K. has ranked poultry as the 6th most wasted food type by volume and the most wasted by value.

According to sustainability body WRAP, 66,000 tons of poultry meat are lost at farm level each year, representing 3.5% of production and with a value of GBP85 million (US$106 million).

WRAP has published what it claims are the most reliable estimates to date for total farm food surpluses and waste, assessing the categories of vegetables, fruit, cereal crops, dairy and livestock.

While by value poultry meat losses may be the highest of all food types examined and the only meat to appear within the top 10, by volume the sector is by no means the worst offender. That title goes to sugar beet production, where 347,000 tons are wasted annually, or 3.9% of production.

The review has looked at food production from the moment that a crop is ready to harvest, or an animal ready to be slaughtered, and includes surplus and waste arising from processes including grading, packing and washing, as well as customer rejections.

It concludes that the estimated total U.K. food surplus and waste in primary production stands at 3.6 million tons per annum, or 7.2% of production, with a market value in the region of GBP1.2 billion (US$1.5 billion).

WRAP estimates that waste accounts for 1.6 million tons of the total figure, or around 3% of production with a market value of around GBP650 million (US$794 million). Surplus food comprises those products that are not sold for human consumption as intended, but which instead are used as livestock feed, redistributed to charities, or may become bio-based materials, such as colorants. The amount of surplus food is estimated to be an additional 2 million tons per annum, or 4% with a market value of more than GBP500 million (US$611 million).

Hard to gauge

Estimating waste in primary production is not an easy task, with farming being subject not only to the uncertainties of the natural world, but also to customer demand fluctuations and the timing of harvest, among others. The review is, nevertheless, thought to be the most accurate examination to date highlighting the scale of the issue, and has identified where efforts need to be focused to introduce best practice.

Commenting on the report, National Farmers Union (NFU) vice president Stuart Roberts pointed out that all farmers and growers work extremely hard to ensure as little waste as possible, as this makes good business sense. He continued, however, that the NFU had recently joined retailers and food companies in an initiative which pledges to halve food waste by 2030.

And while waste at farm level in the U.K. may be cause for concern, what becomes more concerning is when these figures are added to what is lost once products are purchased. U.K. households are said to waste 7.1 million tons of food annually, while food manufacturers are estimated to waste 1.9 million tons of food each year.

Highlighting food waste at a global level, WRAP notes that if global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the USA and China, adding that wasting food is an environmental, moral and financial scandal.