World food waste is a “tragedy”, study finds

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World food waste is a “tragedy”, study finds

January 14
10:59 2013

A new report suggests that half of all the food produced in the world is being thrown away every year and experts have called this a “tragedy”

As much as two billion tonnes is wasted because of overly strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one-free offers and consumer fussiness, according to a report by independent scientific body the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

The report is entitled Global food waste not, want not.

In the UK, up to 30% of vegetables are not harvested because their physical appearance fails to meet the exacting demands of the supermarkets.

Ugly fruit

Major supermarkets, in developed countries, in meeting consumer expectations will often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they do not meet exacting marketing standards for their physical characteristics, such as size and appearance.

In contrast, the report found that wastage tends to occur primarily at the farmer-producer end of the supply chain in developing countries.

It claims that half of food purchased in Europe and the US is thrown away as needless waste while elsewhere there are other problems like storage. The report also stated that the most affluent countries waste the largest quantities of food at the consumer end of the chain.


The report also claims that labelling many foods can encourage waste. Many consumers have a poor understanding of ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates, and these dates are generally quite conservative, as they are driven by the retailer’s desire to avoid legal action, according to the study.

The research found £1 billion-worth of the food wasted annually in the UK is food still ‘in date’ and so is perfectly edible.

If this quantity of food was not wasted, the saving in energy consumed in its production, packaging and transport, would be the equivalent of taking 20% of cars off the road in the UK, according to the report.

IMechE head of energy and environment Dr Tim Fox said: “The amount of food wasted is staggering.

“This could be used to feed the world’s growing population – as well as those in hunger today.

“The reasons for this situation range from poor engineering and agricultural practices, inadequate transport and storage infrastructure through to supermarkets demanding cosmetically perfect foodstuffs.”

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