Half of All Global Food is Wasted

Up to half –yes, half—of all food in the world is wasted.   Between 30-50% of all food produced around the world never ends up in a human stomach.  Wasting food occurs at exaggerated levels in developed countries, due mainly to modern consumer culture.  Supermarkets often reject entire crops of perfectly edible food because they don’t meet the marketing standards of picky Western consumers.  “Globally, retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste annually in this way”, reports UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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If food does make it to the supermarkets,  the profit-seeking stores often offer promotions, sales, and ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ kinds of incentives that encourage overbuying.  It’s often cheaper to consume in bulk than in volumes of food that can actually be consumed each week.  30-50% of what is bought by consumers in developed countries is thrown away, simply due to the fact that they bought in excess.

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On top of this, vast amounts of water, resources, land, fertilizers, and energy are used up and lost in the process of producing foodstuffs.   About 70% of all water consumed around the world per annum goes towards agriculture.  To note: producing beef uses about 50 times more water than producing vegetables.  As fresh water sources become more scarce and more polluted, this is important to consider.

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Land used globally for agriculture will not be able to increase indefinitely, if much more at all, which will pose a challenge in the near future if/when global populations rise.  Considering the fact that meat production consumes far more land and resources than vegetable production, this is a very important reason for people in developed nations to eat more vegetarian meals.  IME explains, “with global food production already utilizing about 4.9Gha of the 10Gha usable land surface available, a further increase in farming area without impacting unfavourably on what remains of the world’s natural ecosystems appears unlikely. The challenge is that an increase in animal-based production will require greater land and resource requirement, as livestock farming demands extensive land use. One hectare of land can, for example, produce rice or potatoes for 19–22 people per annum. The same area will produce enough lamb or beef for only one or two people.”

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With so many hungry people around the world today, it is staggering to think that up to half of food produced is thrown away based on picky consumer standards or over-consumption in developed countries.  It is even more bewildering to know that an enormous amount of edible food, energy and natural resources are wasted to produce meat for wealthy consumers.  Surely, with all of our modern technological advancements and understanding of the limits to our global resources, we can engineer better ways to get food from field to table.  More local, plant-based foods and a less marketized global food culture are but a few examples.

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5 Comments on “Half of All Global Food is Wasted”

  1. leazengage January 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this information. One small thing that I do is that I belong to a “food and goods rescue” non-profit that gathers usable food (and other items) to distribute to its members and the community. I believe that a small thing each individual can do is to commit to not wasting… Thanks again.

    • utopiandreaming January 18, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

      That is truly fantastic! Actions like that are extremely important and do make a big difference. Distributing food/goods instead of wasting them also helps people to re-think how easy it is to throw things away in our society. It is far too easy to throw things away when they could be completely useful to other people/communities. Thanks for the comment.

      • leazengage January 18, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

        I’ve been doing this for over decades and what really gets people’s attention is that I am a fitness person which means I’m about being really healthy but for the last decades I’ve been eating food that wasn’t “good enough” for stores to sell. HMMMM… Again, thanks to you!

    • Melisa January 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

      Amazing! Keep up the great work.

  2. sustainablee January 19, 2013 at 2:34 am #

    Reblogged this on Sustainablee.

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