The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) is a specialized agency that leads international efforts to defeat hunger, make agriculture and forestry more productive and sustainable, reduce rural poverty, enable inclusive and efficient agricultural and food systems, and increase the resilience of livelihoods from disasters.
On September 11, the FAO released a report entitled Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources. This report is the first study to analyze the impacts of global food wastage on the environment. It looked specifically at the consequences of global food waste on the climate, water and land use, and biodiversity.
This report found that 1.3 billion pounds of food is wasted per year. It also found that food that is not eaten after it is produced uses an amount of water equal to Russia’s Volga River and contributes 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases. Economically, wasted food—excluding fish and seafood—costs producers an estimated $750 billion annually.
According to the study, “upstream” stages (production, post-harvest handling, and storage) account for 54% of food loss. “Downstream” stages (processing, distribution, and consumption) account for 46% of food loss. In middle- and high-income countries, 31-39% of waste occurs at the retail and consumer level, while only 4-16% of waste happens at this level in low-income countries. The study attributed this loss in higher-income countries to a combination of consumer behavior and lack of communication in the supply chain. The study found that developing countries generally suffer more waste during agricultural production. This was attributed to financial and structural limitations in harvesting techniques and storage and transport infrastructure, as well as climatic conditions which favor spoilage.
The study found that the environmental impact of waste is greater the later a food product is lost along the chain. The study credits this to the environmental costs incurred during processing, transport, storage, and cooking which are added to the initial production costs.
The study also identified several world food wastage “hot-spots,” which included cereal wastage in Asia contributing to major water and land use; the impact of the meat sector on land occupation and carbon footprint; fruit wastage contributing to water waste in Asia, Latin America, and Europe; and the impact of vegetable wastage in industrialized Asia, Europe, and South and South East Asia on the carbon footprint.
FAO also published a “toolkit” as a companion to its report with recommendations on how each stage of the food chain can reduce food waste. It includes profiles of projects around the world which demonstrate how consumers, farmers, businesses, and national and local governments can improve their practices to reduce food waste. This toolkit identified three general levels where action is needed: high priority to reducing food wastage in the first place, reusing food within the human food chain in the event of a food surplus, and recycling and recovering where reuse is not possible.
For more information on the UN FAO food waste report, see the FAO’s official press release. The original report can be found on the FAO website, along with the accompanying toolkit. The FAO also provides websites related to food waste key facts and figures and recommendations on what to do about food waste. Further information on the FAO can be found on their website.
Written by Alyssa Looney – Research Assistant
The Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center
September 16, 2013