Thursday, July 14, 2016

"Cosmetic" food standards-Major causative factor for food wastage

If one can recall the words of late Dr HAB Parpia, doyen of food technology in India,  during sixties food wastage in the country amounted to more than 40% and according to him most of this wastage was taking place at the post harvest phase of the produce when it is transferred to the markets under none too ideal conditions. Probably many sceptics did not subscribe to this view though every one concedes there is "significant" loss of valuable foods in the food chain of the country. Is it not unfortunate that even to day ministers and bureaucrats conveniently quote this figure for food losses in their sterile speeches targeted at the gullible public? The tragedy is compounded by the reluctance or insensitivity all around to study this problem nation wide and arrive at consensus figures regarding wastage in different sectors like perishables including fruits, vegetables, spices, meat and poultry and so called durables like cereals, pulses and oil seeds that take place across the entire spectrum of food handling. It is against such a background that the following publication brought out the scenario in the US where food is wasted consciously by the citizens because they can afford it if not satisfied with the quality as represented by color, shape, size, appearance and texture. Here are further details about the whims of an entire population which has built up a "cult for perfection" in their every day life and throw away precious food that can feed almost a quarter of world population!.

"Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a "cult of perfection", deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment. The demand for 'perfect' fruit and veg means much is discarded, damaging the climate and leaving people hungry
Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards,according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials as reported by the Guardian "It's all about blemish-free produce," says Jay Johnson, who ships fresh fruit and vegetables from North Carolina and central Florida. "What happens in our business today is that it is either perfect, or it gets rejected. It is perfect to them, or they turn it down. And then you are stuck." Food waste is often described as a "farm-to-fork" problem. Produce is lost in fields, warehouses, packaging, distribution, supermarkets, restaurants and fridges. By one government tally, about 60m tonnes of produce worth about $160bn (£119bn), is wasted by retailers and consumers every year – one third of all foodstuffs. That lost food is seen increasingly as a drag on household incomes – about $1,600 a year for a family of four  and a direct challenge to global efforts to fight hunger, poverty and climate change. Globally, about one-third of food is wasted: 1.6bn tonnes of produce a year, with a value of about $1tn. If this wasted food were stacked in 20-cubic metre skips, it would fill 80m of them, enough to reach all the way to the moon, and encircle it once. Food waste accounts for about 8% of global climate pollution, more than India or Russia. "There are a lot of people who are hungry and malnourished, including in the US. My guess is probably 5-10% of the population are still hungry – they still do not have enough to eat," said Shenggen Fan, the director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. "That is why food waste, food loss matters a great deal. People are still hungry."
That is not counting the waste of water, land and other resources, or the toll on the climate of producing food that ends up in landfill.
This results in formation of methane gas contributing to climate change due to greenhouse effect."

Looking from another angle, every denizen has a "right" to buy whatever is offered for a price and what they do with it is their business. But can an interdependent global society  hide under such a narrow legal excuse to justify enormous waste of food,  especially in rich countries like the US just because these foods do not satisfy their aesthetic sense? If the above report is to be believed at a global level more than 30% of food is wasted advertently or other wise. While developing countries like India may be helpless to some extent in controlling food wastage because of lack of access to right types of agricultural and post harvest technologies, essential to save foods from the predators, they cannot be exonerated completely because most of them do not have visionaries and humane politicians at the helm of affairs to implement policies that can help prevent or reduce food wastage. This is nothing but callousness and indifference. While food wastes in wealthy countries can be understood because of the high buying capacity of the consumers there, same cannot be justified in poor countries where millions of people are reported to be going to bed every day on empty stomachs because of lack of accessibility to food due to improper cultivation and conservation practices. Why an agency like FAO of the UNO has not been able to do much in this area is baffling in spite of its existence for several decades. Present concerns about global warming and focussed international actions contemplated may be alright but same concern must be evident in ameliorating the hunger conditions of millions of people under starvation of different degree across the five continents through international cooperation. 


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