FAO Says Food Waste Harms Climate, Water, Land, and Biodiversity
The world wastes 1.3 billion tons of food annually—a third of all the food that’s produced—according to a report published last week by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This waste not only results in major economic loss, but also causes significant harm to the natural resources that we rely on for food production. It also has moral implications, given that an estimated 870 million people go to bed hungry every night.
The report, Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources, analyzes the impacts of global food waste from an environmental perspective, looking specifically at its consequences for the climate, water and land use, and biodiversity.
According to the report’s authors, food that is produced but not eaten consumes a volume of water three times greater than Lake Geneva and adds 3.3 billion tons of greenhouses gases to the atmosphere every year—more than the entire global shipping industry. Approximately 1.4 billion hectares of land—28 percent of the world’s agricultural area—is used annually to produce this food.
In addition to its environmental impacts, the FAO estimates the direct economic consequences of food waste (excluding fish and seafood) to be $750 billion annually.
"We all—farmers and fishers; food processers and supermarkets; local and national governments; individual consumers—must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can’t," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.
Food is wasted at all stages of the food chain. Fifty-four percent occurs "upstream" during production, post-harvest handling, and storage, while 46 percent occurs "downstream" during the processing, distribution, and consumption stages, according to the report. Generally, developing countries suffer more food loss during agricultural production, whereas food waste at the retail and consumer level tends to be higher in middle- and high-income regions.
The FAO proposes several solutions to reduce food waste, including better methods of food harvest, storage, processing, transport, and retailing; better communication among food chain participants; more conscientious consumption, with an emphasis on buying only what is needed and relaxing standards for the cosmetic quality of produce; legislation aimed at lowering food waste; systems that redistribute safe surplus food to those in need; and food waste recycling systems that use anaerobic digestion to break food down into usable fertilizer and biogas.
Read more at Worldwatch Institute.
Food waste image via Shutterstock.