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Shocker ! Food Loss & Food Waste


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Overview and brief summary on the challenges of reducing food loss and food waste.

Overview and brief summary on the challenges of reducing food loss and food waste.

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  • 1.   Shantalla  Inc.  ©  2014   Shocker ! Food Loss & Waste By: John G. Keogh, President & Principal Advisor, Shantalla Inc. With the world population headed fast towards 9.6 billion by 2050, the pressing challenge of achieving food security is attracting huge scientific interest. But the key factor in achieving food security may not hinge entirely on the adoption of new technologies, and may be much more boring – simply cut food loss and food waste. The UN FAO definition of Food Security as defined in 2001 is “Food security [is] a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. Experts agree that achieving food security is a complex and multidimensional issue consisting of Sociological, Technological, Economic, Environmental and Political factors, but one glaring fact sticks out: around 30-50% of all food produced is not consumed and is classified as either food loss or food waste. What's the difference between food loss and food waste? In general terms, food loss relates to primary production, harvesting and post-harvest handling and storage. Whereas food waste is attributed to the processing and packaging stages through to distribution, market and consumption stages. Although there is an overlap, food waste is generally when the food is fit for consumption but wasted. Over the past few years there have been some pretty impactful briefings on the key issues. One such briefing was from US based think-tank, World Resources Institute (WRI). WRI shared statistics from UN FAO (2011) on food loss and food waste in 2009: • 32% of global food supply by weight is lost or wasted • Land Impact: about 489 million acres of land are used to grow the food that is lost or wasted – this area is about the size of Malaysia. • Water impact: about 24% of all water used in agriculture is used to grow food that never gets consumed • Environment impact: the overall food loss is the equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the United States
  • 2.   Shantalla  Inc.  ©  2014   We can agree that something needs to change. Let’s look briefly at where food loss and food waste occurs in the value chain: • Primary production plus storage and handling are the pre-market stages and account equally for 24% - combined it's a massive 48% of the total loss • Factory processing and packaging or the “middle of the value chain” is 4% • Losses during physical distribution & market stages accounts for 12% • The consumption stage in the value chain accounts for 35% WRI's research highlights that per capita, North America and Oceania stand out from other regions, with about 1,500 kcal per person per day lost or wasted from farm to fork. Europe and Industrialized Asia have similar levels of per capita loss and waste. We need to ask why do North America and Oceania stand out?. Whereas less developed countries tend to have lower overall levels of food waste, which is significantly lower in the consumption stage. Food waste in the USA per household equates to about USD 1,600 annually. By comparison, the UK is estimated at UKP 680 per family whereas estimates suggest China throws away about USD 32 billion in food annually according to WRI. Are we doomed ? Malthus said we were 200 years ago. He has been proven wrong, and the high probability is that today’s pessimists will be wrong also. But we surely have an obligation to be more efficient with whatever we produce, and to minimize the impact our food producing activity has on our already fragile environment. WRI suggests that by reducing food loss and waste we can close the 2050 food gap by a staggering 22%. Add to this the impact of smart science on food technologies, and improved use and control of the resources that go into food production and the chances of achieving food security, despite rapid population growth are probably quite high. Reducing food loss and food waste will take time and a concerted effort with appropriate interventions. Japan, as an example has shown impressive foresight as early as the 1960’s when they introduced cold chain infrastructure (refrigeration) and later, laws to recycle food waste to create energy and animal feeds. The amount of food recycled by the Japanese program from factories, restaurants, hotels and households is admirable.
  • 3.   Shantalla  Inc.  ©  2014   What can you do to help? Awareness of the issues and education on best practices is vital at all stages in the value chain. A massive 48% of food loss occurs before it reaches the market stage due to inefficiencies and incompetency’s in the primary production and post-harvest handling and storage stages of the value chain. Notwithstanding the known lack of infrastructure in many developing economies, capacity building activities are more critical now than ever before. But they must strike a balance between Good Agricultural Practices, adoption of new technologies, global supply chain standards and education on best practices. One question that begs asking: can some of the pre-market loss be recycled to create energy or animal feed as Japan has done successfully? The 35% that is wasted in the consumption stage is within the control of retail, food service and consumers. Each of us can start at home by reducing our kitchen waste, re- using what we overcook and buying perishable foods more often rather than in bulk. Retailers have started innovating by using the GS1 Databar; which is a smaller bar code that you may find on an individual apple or orange. The GS1 Databar allows for embedding of additional data into the bar code such as batch # or expiry date and can be used for dynamic pricing as the perishables gets closer to the end of their shelf life. Research in Europe highlighted that consumers are willing to buy fresh produce nearing the end of shelf-life. Are retailers willing to offer incentives through reduced pricing? Restaurants can contribute by reducing portion size to reduce waste. Several US campus restaurants have experimented with "tray-less" and the reduction in waste was significant. Whether you are a farmer, fisher, producer, manufacturer, distributor, importer, retailer, restaurant owner or consumer, we all need to fully grasp and understand the magnitude of the issues ahead and then take responsibility for our actions. Our collective actions may one day contribute to sidestepping this looming global crisis and we can continue to prove Malthus was wrong ! And remember, if we all do just a little, it will help a lot. John G. Keogh