One-third a population of 10 billion, yet 1 billion

One-third of food that is produced for human consumption is wasted globally – this accounts
for 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year. Food can be wasted or lost at any stage in the food
supply chain: from the initial agricultural production to its final consumption. Food waste is a
serious issue as it is resulting in the depletion and wastage of the world’s resources such as
land, labor, water, energy and other valuable inputs. In the United States alone, 30% of all
food produced and 50% of water used during the production of a food, is wasted. In the
U.K., 7 million tonnes of food and drink are thrown away by households every year, the
majority of which could have been consumed, consequently costing the U.K. $15.5bn a year.
As well as having an adverse environmental impact on land, water and biodiversity, food
waste also has a detrimental impact on the economy and raises various ethical issues. For
economic growth and development to occur successfully, the production of goods that
improve the quality of life is essential. This requires minimizing the natural resources that are
wasted throughout the entire food supply chain. The United Nations are aware of the
importance of sustainable growth, and have addressed the growing concerns about food
waste in the 12th Sustainable Development Goal – to ensure sustainable consumption and
production patterns. It has been estimated that it would save the world economy USD $300
billion, if successful and food waste is reduced by 50 percent by 2030. However, if there are
no progress is made, consumer food waste will amount to $600 billion a year.
The world is producing 17 percent more food per person today, than it did 30 years ago.
Agricultural and manufacturing industries produce enough food to feed a population of 10
billion, yet 1 billion people remain hungry. Moreover, wealthier, industrial based countries
waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa. This
emphasizes the severity of the issue, as well as highlighting the ethical obligation of these
industrial countries to begin an initiative to reduce food waste.
Definition of Key Terms
Food waste
Can also be referred to as ‘food loss’, is the decrease, loss or wastage of food in the stages
of the food supply chain, most frequently in the later stages by retailers or consumers. The
loss may be accidental or intentional, and common causes include incorrect storage,
improper date marking, poor buying or cooking practices, and legal or institutional
Food supply chain
Can also be referred as ‘food production chain’, is the processes of producing a food product
for household consumption: from the initial agricultural production down its consumption.
This process includes production, processing, distribution or transportation, consumption
and disposal.
“Upstream” food production
“Upstream” food production refers to the beginning stages of food supply chain, including
agricultural production, post-harvest handling, and storage.
“Downstream” food production
“Downstream” food production refers to the later stages of food supply chain, including
processing, transportation or distribution, and consumption.
Date Marking
The regulation by which the producers and manufacturers of a food must include a ‘date of
minimum durability’ or a ‘use by’ date: this represents the date until which the food retains its
specific properties, if it is stored properly. Date marking is required when the food is
potentially hazardous, due to the possibility of the growth of pathogenic bacteria to
dangerous levels.
Blue water footprint
The consumption of surface and groundwater resources
Key Issues
Environmental Concerns
Food waste is one of the main contributors to global warming, resulting is various
greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants being released into the Earth’s atmosphere. In the
United States, organic waste is the second highest component found in landfills, and thus is
responsible for contributing more than 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the
atmosphere. The vast amounts of food waste in landfills releases pollutants such as
methane and carbon dioxide. The carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten is
estimated to be around 4.4 Gtonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent, per year: this is 8 percent
of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions Similarly, methane is one of the most
harmful greenhouse gases that contributes to climate change: it is 21 times more potent
than carbon dioxide, thus makes a significant impact in climate change. Landfill gas is
responsible for 17 percent of USA methane emissions.
Likewise, food waste also poses a threat to land and water conservation. Globally, the blue
water footprint of food wastage is about 250km3
/year, which is 3.6 times the water
consumption of USA in the same time. Furthermore, food waste contributes to land
degradation. Intensive agricultural production, without allowing fields to replenish, diminishes
soil fertility. As 1/3 of the food produced is wasted, soil is unnecessarily pressured.
Therefore, it results in decreased soil quality, further use of synthetic inputs that cause
pollution, and the loss of arable land. In 2007, 1.4 billion hectares of land were used to
produce food that was not consumed – this area is larger than Canada and India together.