Sunday, January 13, 2013


Food wastage is as old as human civilization and there has never been or never will be unanimity regarding the extent of loss at different stages of production, distribution and consumption. From time to time estimates (are they not guesstimates?) of food waste are aired in developing as well as the developed countries, though there is some credibility problem in completely trusting those figures. Latest to come out is a report which puts the wastage globally at a staggering 1.2 billion tons annually though the methodology used to decide on this awesome figure is not known. It is true that significant amount of food, whether raw, cooked or processed, is lost and the reasons for this unfortunate phenomenon can be many. While people in rich countries cause food wastage on their dining tables, those in poor countries incur losses in the field during production or defective storage or distribution inefficiencies. While the wastage of food is real, what the world does not know is how to cut down or prevent such losses. Here is a critique on this issue and after reading this one still does not get a clue as to how much is really lost and how that can be tackled.  

"The Institution of Mechanical Engineers estimated that between 30 and 50 per cent of food produced around the globe, or 1.2 to two billion tonnes each year, never reaches a human mouth. Vast quantities of produce from developing countries is lost due to poor storage or inefficient farming, while wasteful behavior by consumers and supermarkets means half of all food bought in the west is thrown away. As many as 30 per cent of UK vegetable crops are not even harvested because they do not meet retailers' stringent demands on appearance, which are based on what customers will accept. Supermarkets often reject entire crops of "perfectly edible" fruit and vegetables at farms because they have the wrong size or appearance, and are guilty of encouraging consumers to buy more than they can eat with promotions on perishable items, the report said. Use-by dates can also cause more waste because retailers use conservative estimates to avoid the threat of legal action, thereby encouraging customers to throw perfectly good food away before it has gone bad, it was claimed. Dr Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said: "The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering. "The reasons for this situation range from poor engineering and agricultural practices, inadequate transport and storage infrastructure through to supermarkets demanding cosmetically perfect foodstuffs and encouraging consumers to overbuy through buy-one-get-one free offers." The report called on governments to introduce better technology and food storage facilities in the developing world and introducing policies to reduce waste by supermarkets and consumers in countries like Britain".

Taking the case of India, both the so called experts as well as the governing class were routinely touting figures like 30-50% as food losses though there are not many reliable sources of information to verify the same. Even the Prime Minister of the country has recently pronounced that 30% of food in the country is wasted though he forgets that his government as well as the previous ones are responsible for this miserable state of affairs in the country. On one hand there is a glut of food grains coming from the farmlands of the country while there are millions of Indian citizens starving due to inaccessibility to affordable food. It was only last year that the Supreme Court pulled up the government for allowing food grains to rot in the open for want of efficient management and critical shortage of grain storage facilities in tune with the production increase from year to year. As for dining table wastage, the upper middle class and rich people only can be accused of such callousness while big caterers and restaurants do waste food due to reasons beyond their control. Education and sensitization of kids during early stages of their life can instill in them a sense of responsibility and awareness regarding the criminality of wasting food on the dining table. Food banks which are now being established in the western world are doing a yeoman service to at least arranging to lift foods from super markets and other retailers which are no more marketable but still edible for distribution to poor people. Field losses of raw foods can be avoided only if farmers employ modern preservation technologies and sound scientific storage practices.


No comments: