50% of world's food wasted

10th January 2013


Related Topics

Related tags

  • Transport ,
  • Retail and wholesale ,
  • Food and drink ,
  • Agriculture ,
  • Procurement

Author

IEMA

Up to half of foodstuffs produced globally are ending up as waste due to poor farming practices, inadequate infrastructure and supermarket's unsustainable policies, warn engineers

Food producers, governments, retailers and consumers are all contributing to food waste, according to a report from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IME).

It concludes that more efficient methods of food production and transport, coupled with changes in consumer behaviour and supermarket procurement policies, could boost yields by 60-100% and prevent wasteful use of resources.

According to the study, 550 billion m3 of water is wasted globally each year in growing crops that never reach the consumer, alongside significant amounts of energy.

The IME estimate that between 1.2–2 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year as a result of not being harvested, becoming spoilt in storage or transport, or being thrown away by consumers.

In developing economies, poor farming methods, transport infrastructure and storage facilities are to blame for waste, says the report. In South-East Asia alone, 180 million tonnes of rice are lost each year. With China losing 40% of its total production and Vietnam 80%.

Meanwhile, in more developed countries, food waste is associated with crops failing to meet marketing standards for appearance, such as size and colour, or through consumer waste.

Up to 30% of vegetables grown in the UK are not harvested due to supermarket procurement policies, states the report, and across the world 1.6 million tonnes of food waste is created annually in this way.

“In economies such as the UK and US, the purchasing policies for fresh produce operated by the major supermarkets actively encourage waste in the field,” concludes the report.

It also lambasts retailers for promotions, such as buy-one-get-one-free, that encourage consumers to overbuy fresh foods, which are often then wasted. The report estimates that up to half of food bought in developed countries is thrown away by consumers.

“The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering,” said Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the IME. “As water, land and energy resources come under increasing pressure from competing human demands, engineers have a crucial role to play in preventing food loss and waste by developing more efficient ways of growing, transporting and storing foods.

“But for this to happen governments, development agencies and organisations like the UN must work together to help change people’s mindsets on waste and discourage wasteful practices by farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers.”

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) rejected the report’s claim that supermarket offers were to blame for consumers wasting food.

“A government-sponsored report published last year showed that there was no link between promotions and food waste,” said Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability. “The main method of promotion in this area is cutting the price rather than buy-one-get-one-free offers, which are rare.”

UK retailers are also working to reduce the amount of crops rejected due to appearance, according to Opie.

“Using more of the crop to cut food waste and increase sustainable production is an objective for all retailers. This is how we are exceeding government targets for food waste,” he said.

“It was supermarkets that lobbied Europe to relax strict marketing rules on fruit and veg to allow us to sell more misshapen produce. This has led to an enormous increase in the sale of ‘wonky’ veg.”

Currently food production accounts for 3.1% of the global energy use and 70% of water demand, according to the report. If production methods do not change, and with population levels set to rise, water demand could grow by as much as 3.5 times by 2050, it states.

Subscribe

Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.


Transform articles

Interview: Andrew Winston on the many reasons for hope

One of the world’s most influential management thinkers, Andrew Winston sees many reasons for hope as pessimism looms large in sustainability. Huw Morris reports

4th April 2024

Read more

Vanessa Champion reveals how biophilic design can help you meet your environmental, social and governance goals

4th April 2024

Read more

Alex Veitch from the British Chambers of Commerce and IEMA’s Ben Goodwin discuss with Chris Seekings how to unlock the potential of UK businesses

4th April 2024

Read more

A project promoter’s perspective on the environmental challenges facing new subsea power cables

3rd April 2024

Read more

Senior consultant, EcoAct

3rd April 2024

Read more

Around 20% of the plastic recycled is polypropylene, but the diversity of products it protects has prevented safe reprocessing back into food packaging. Until now. David Burrows reports

3rd April 2024

Read more

IEMA presents a digital campaign to share knowledge and inspire action in sustainability

2nd April 2024

Read more

Tom Harris examines the supply chain constraints facing the growing number of interconnector projects

2nd April 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close