Friday, July 8, 2011


It is shocking to see enormous amount of foods being wasted by those who are wealthy and who can afford it without pinching their purse. The moot question is what about those millions of hungry people in the world, whether in developed or developing countries suffering from lack of adequate foods, mostly due to economic reasons? Can there be a solution to this inequitable food situation? While rich people invariably waste more than 30% of the foods made at home, there are countries where large scale feasts are organized routinely to celebrate many occasions and where food waste is inevitable. The agricultural production system and the food processing sector also contribute to wastage due to many factors, most of them preventable. The recent FAO report quantifying the extent of food waste in the world is shocking. Here is a take on this vital issue which needs corrective measures to prevent at least a part of the wastage by appropriate remedial measures..

"According to the FAO report, the amount of food wasted per capita is significantly higher in the developed world than in developing countries. For example, per capita food waste in Europe and North America ranges between 95 and 115 kg (209 to 254 pounds) per year, whereas it is as low as 6 to 11 kg (13 to 24 pounds) in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia. There is food waste at every stage of food production, including agriculture, post harvest, processing, distribution and consumption. In North American and Oceania, the overall food waste per capita is higher than in Europe. However, in Europe the food waste from industry is higher than it is in North America. That means that comparatively, the companies involved in the food industry are more wasteful in Europe and consumers are more wasteful in North America and Oceania. One reason for this may be aesthetic standards that some foods have to meet in Europe, such as a specific bend on the banana or the need for carrots to be straight so that customers can peel them more easily. The amount of food wasted by the food industry versus consumers also depends on the type of food. When it comes to cereals, meat and milk products, consumers are responsible for a higher proportion of waste. However, when it comes to oil seeds and root and tubers, the food industry is responsible for more of the waste".

"According to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, two percent of all US energy is expended on food that is ultimately thrown away (source: Climate Progress). Food production is incredibly resource-intensive. Add food transportation on top of that and and the contribution of wasted food to carbon emissions and climate change is significant. Perhaps one of the most shocking findings in the study is that food waste by consumers in industrialized countries (222 million tons) is almost equivalent to the total food production in sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons). This certainly brings up visions of parents saying "finish your dinner...there are people starving in Africa." While licking our plates clean is not going to feed people in Africa, these disturbing figures certainly do highlight the extent to which we take our food security for granted in industrialized countries.
There are obviously a lot of steps that companies involved in the various stages of the food industry need to take to reduce their part of the waste. But as consumers, there are plenty of things we can do too".

In India GOI talks about losses only in the supply chain, ignoring the situation at millions of homes and public eating places. It was fashionable once upon a time for food scientists in India, involved in developing preventive technologies for saving foods, to speak about losses as high as 50% of the country's food production. Even to day one hears about losses in the sector amounting to the same extent implying that nothing much has been achieved in the fight against food waste! Unless there is a concerted action by the government, food scientists, field workers, citizens and organizations, the 50% food loss figure is likely to be repeated ad naseum for years to come. Whether the newly proposed food security bill help to stop food losses remains to be seen.

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