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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

1/3 of Food Produced for Human Consumption is Wasted

One-third of the food produced for human consumption winds up lost or wasted globally, about 1.3 billion tons a year, according to a study by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (SIK). The UN supported the study titled “Global Food Loses and Food Waste.” Although the amount of food lost or wasted annually is almost equal in industrialized countries (222 million tons) and developing countries (230 million tons), over 40 percent of waste in industrialized countries occurs at retail and consumer levels. In developing countries, food loss occurs during post-harvest and processing stages of the food supply chain (FSC), but very little is wasted.

The total per capita production of edible parts of food for human consumption in Europe and North America is about 900 kg/year, while it is only 460/kg a year in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia. In industrialized countries food “is thrown away even if it is still suitable for human consumption.” In other words, visually unappealing produce is thrown away even though it may taste as good as the better looking produce. That fact explains why the food wasted per capita in Europe and North America  is 95 to 115 kilograms a year, and only six to 11 kilograms a year in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia.

“Food commodities are traded at an international market, and waste in one part of the world affects prices in other parts of the world,” said Robert van Otterdijk, FAO Officer for the SAVE FOOD congress being held May 16 through 17. “When food is thrown away in rich countries this affects the availability of food in poor countries.”

Why less visually appealing produce is thrown away

The reason why produce that is less visually appealing is thrown away is because supermarkets have “high appearance quality standards” for fresh products which leads to food waste. Surveys show that consumers are willing to buy less visually appealing produce as long as the taste is not affected. The report suggests that supermarkets should conduct surveys among its consumers and then offer “them a broader quality range of products in the retail stores.”

Another reason why supermarkets throw out less visually appealing produce is that it is cheap to throw away food that does not look appealing but is still safe to eat. The report suggests that markets be developed for less visually appealing produce to capitalize on this inefficiency in the market.

Supermarkets display large quantities of produce which leads to food waste. “When shopping, consumers expect store shelves to be well filled,” the report states. “Although certainly beneficial for sales statistics, continually replenished supplies mean that food products close to expiry are often ignored by consumers,” the report continues. The prevention is simply—put less on display.

Both consumer attitudes and the abundance of produce lead to high food waste. Educating people about food waste through school and political initiatives will help change people’s attitudes, the report suggests.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman