Developing a Global Food Loss and Waste Measurement Protocol


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One out of every four food calories intended for people is not ultimately consumed. The Protocol seeks to address the challenges of measuring food loss and waste. Find out more at

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  • I have a question about the 'consumption' loss, does it take into account the fact that part of the food that is bought is not edible? (left overs of vegetables, bones, residues in packages (which could be counted in the packaging part), and so on)
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  • Good afternoon, I am Craig Hanson, director of the Food, Forests, and Water Program at WRI.I am also the Steward of the World Resources Report, a publication WRI publishes every 3 years in collaboration with UNEP, UNDP, and the World Bank. The forthcoming World Resources Report seeks to answer the question, “How can the world adequately feed more than 9 billion people in the year 2050 in a manner that ensures agriculture still contributes to economic and social development yet reduces agriculture’s impact on the environment?”We are answering this question through a series of working papers, each of which is dedicated to a solution that would help the world achieve a sustainable food future.
  • In June of this year, WRI and UNEP published “Reducing Food Loss and Waste”, one of the installments in this series. Several organizations in the room today contributed input to this paper, including FAO, WRAP, and Tesco. One of our key messages was that there is a 6.5 quadrillion kcal/year gap between the food available today and that needed in 2050. Halving the rate of food loss and waste would close this gap by more than 20 percent. Thus, reducing food loss and waste is a big item on the menu for a sustainable food future.
  • Two years ago, the FAO released a report in which they found that by weight, about 32% of the world’s food supply is lost or wasted. This was measured by weight, however, which suggests that a pound of beef is the same as a pound of apples is the same as a pound of wheat. We decided to convert their weight figure into calories and found that 24% of the world’s food supply is being lost or wasted; a smaller figure but still quite substantial.
  • When we talk about food loss and waste, we tend to use them together, but they’re actually two different phenomena with different causes and effects. Food loss usually happens as a result of factors outside of the control of the person incurring the loss – it’s not intentional, but instead the result of an infrastructure or transport issue. Food loss generally happens closer to the farm and is more prevalent in developing countries. In the value chain, food loss occurs:- During production or harvest in the form of grain left behind by poor harvesting equipment, discarded fish, and fruit not harvested or discarded because they fail to meet quality standards or are uneconomical to harvest. - During handling and storage in the form of food degraded by pests, fungus, and disease. “Food waste” refers to food that is of good quality and fit for human consumption but that does not get consumed because it is discarded―either before or after it spoils. Food waste typically, but not exclusively, occurs at the retail and consumption stages in the food value chain and is the result of negligence or a conscious decision to throw food away. In the value chain, food waste occurs:- During processing and packaging in the form of spilled milk, damaged fish, and fruit unsuitable for processing. Processed foods may be lost or wasted because of poor order forecasting and inefficient factory processes.- During distribution and marketing in the form of edible food discarded because it is non-compliant with aesthetic quality standards or is not sold before “best before” and “use-by” dates.- During consumption in the form of food purchased by consumers, restaurants, and caterers but not eaten.
  • In terms of stages of the food value chain, 24 percent of global food loss and waste occurs at production, another 24 percent during handling and storage, and 35 percent at consumption. These three stages taken together account for more than 80 percent of global food loss and waste. The distribution of this food loss and waste varies significantly between developed and developing regions, however, with developed countries seeing more at consumption and developing countries seeing more during production and handling and storage.
  • Among other things, we made five cross-cutting recommendations in the paper. Our first recommendation was that the world needs to develop a credible, practical, and globally consistent approach for countries and companies to measure the food loss and waste that occur within their boundaries and value chains.We called this approach a global “food loss and waste protocol.”This recommendation is based on the premise that what gets measured gets managed.
  • In addition, it is based on an observation of at least 3 challenges :DefinitionsDifferent definitions of what constitutes food loss and waste existDataQuantifiable data is often sparse or inconsistently gatheredDiverse methodsDifferent methods for quantifying food loss and waste may emerge, a development that risks confusion amongst users, lack of comparability and consistency, and multiple “reinventions of the wheel.”
  • A global “food loss and waste protocol” seeks to address these challenges. It seeks to harmonize measurement approaches, enable comparability between geographies and entities, and strengthen reliability and credibility. Such a protocol would provide guidance on multiple aspects of measuring food loss and food waste, including:What definitions to use What should be measuredWhat units of measure to use What types of data sources and quantification methods are available and appropriateHow to evaluate tradeoffs between accuracy, completeness, relevance, and costWhat level of accuracy is needed to meet various goals, andHow to report results.
  • The idea is that by conducting periodic audits conforming to the Protocol, countries and companies would be able to quantify how much and where food loss and waste is occurring within their sphere of influence. And the Protocol would: Give confidence that methods are robust, credible, and globally acceptedProvide consistency and comparabilityPrevent “reinvention of the wheel”Accelerate transfer of best practices between regions and companies (EU to elsewhere).
  • Precedents for establishing such global standardized measurement approaches exist in other sustainable development contexts. For example, more than 15 years ago, companies did not have a standard, consistent, mutually agreed upon method for measuring and monitoring their greenhouse gas emissions. And a multitude of different accounting approaches were beginning to emerge, creating confusion among companies and posing the risk of non-comparability between companies. To address this gap, WRI and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development developed the “Greenhouse Gas Protocol” through a multi-stakeholder process. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol has since become the standard for companies and other entities to measure greenhouse gas emissions from their own operations, their purchased electricity, and their supply chains.
  • The successful experience of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol provides some guidance on the process of developing a food loss and waste protocol. For instance:Use a multi-stakeholder process. The Protocol will be developed via an inclusive, global, multi-stakeholder process, involving both public and private sectors from around the world.Build on existing initiatives. Protocol development will engage those who are creating measurement methods for specific geographies or specific aspects of the food value chain. EU FUSIONS.Keep the scope broad. The Protocol will cover both food loss and food waste, and will be designed for use by both countries and companies.Meet user needs. Protocol methods should meet the needs of users, be practical, and have low transaction costs, yet maintain environmental integrity.Avoid letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. One does not need absolutely complete information in order to start working on reducing food loss and waste. Be amenable to differences. Protocol design should be amenable to the different initial conditions of data availability between countries and food supply chains, yet encourage continuous improvement to more accurate and more frequent data collection and use.
  • With this guidance in mind, WRI is planning to convene a process to develop a global food loss and waste protocol. This coming Monday at the Global Green Growth Forum in Copenhagen, WRI will be announcing the launch of a process to develop such a global Protocol. And we aren’t going to do it alone. The best global standards and methods are developed via partnerships. Several core collaborators are here in the room today:There’s UNEP and FAO. The Protocol aligns with the efforts of their Think.Eat.Save initiative and with FAO’s Save Food initiative.WRAP is in the roomand FUSIONS itself will be a core partner in making the global Protocol a reality.And companies such as Tesco will be important stakeholders to involve, in order to learn from their experiences, make sure the methods are practical, and to reach into supply chains around the world. Several European countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are exploring establishing food loss and waste reduction targets and metrics.
  • Developing a Global Food Loss and Waste Measurement Protocol

    1. 1. Developing a Global Food Loss and Waste Measurement Protocol October 2013 Craig Hanson, Steward, World Resources Report Photo: WRAP
    2. 2.
    3. 3. Food loss and waste represent huge amounts of the global food supply 24% of global food supply by energy content (calories) 32% of global food supply by weight Source: WRI analysis based on FAO. 2011. Global food losses and food waste – extent, causes and prevention. Rome: UN FAO.
    4. 4. Food is lost or wasted along the entire value chain During or immediately after harvesting on the farm After produce leaves the farm for handling, storage, and transport During industrial or domestic processing and/or packaging Source: WRI analysis based on FAO. 2011. Global food losses and food waste – extent, causes and prevention. Rome: UN FAO. During distribution to markets, including losses at wholesale and retail markets Losses in the home or business of the consumer, including restaurants and caterers
    5. 5. Food loss is more prevalent in developing countries while food waste is more prevalent in developed countries 100% = 1.5 quadrillion kcal Source: WRI analysis based on FAO. 2011. Global food losses and food waste – extent, causes and prevention. Rome: UN FAO.
    6. 6. As regions get richer, waste becomes more prevalent than loss (Percent of kcal lost and wasted) Note: Number may not sum to 100 due to rounding. Source: WRI analysis based on FAO. 2011. Global food losses and food waste—extent, causes and prevention. Rome: UN FAO.
    7. 7. Recommendation 1: Develop a global “food loss and waste protocol”
    8. 8. Challenges • Definitions • Data • Diverse methods
    9. 9. Global food loss and waste protocol • What definitions • Scope • Unit(s) • Data and methods • How to evaluate trade-offs • How accurate • Reporting
    10. 10. Benefits of a global protocol What it answers What it enables How much is being lost and wasted? • Quantifies to understand impact • Helps set baselines, set targets, measure performance, report, and benchmark Where is it happening? • Identifies where occurring and who to engage • Helps with reduction strategies What methods should be used? • Provides confidence and consistency • Prevents “reinventing the wheel” • Accelerates transfer of best practice
    11. 11. A precedent
    12. 12. Some guiding principles • Use multi-stakeholder process • Build on existing initiatives • Keep scope broad • Meet user needs • Avoid letting the “perfect become enemy of the good” • Seek continuous improvement
    13. 13. Food Loss and Waste Protocol Photo source: Marisa McClellan.
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