New study reveals staggering global food waste and its environmental damage

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In a recent article published in a magazine natural foodResearchers have developed a global database that can provide critical insights into the location, composition, scale, and environmental footprint of food loss and waste (FLW). Their work can be an important tool for policymakers to make the global food supply chain (FSC) more sustainable and safe.

Research: Global food loss and waste estimates show increasing pressures on nutrition and the environment. Image credit: ArieStudio / ShutterstockResearch: Global food loss and waste estimates show increasing pressures on nutrition and the environment. Image credit: ArieStudio / Shutterstock

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The transition to a more sustainable and safe food system requires significant reductions in FLW around the world. FSC food waste not only jeopardizes efforts to achieve universal food security and end hunger, but also leads to the depletion of natural resources, contributes to climate change, and threatens economic stability.

To meaningfully address FLW issues, policymakers need to accurately estimate the location, composition, and scale of waste and identify where interventions can maximize environmental and socio-economic benefits . However, consistent FLW estimates are lacking due to the lack of a comprehensive approach. A multidisciplinary framework is needed to develop policy responses. Single country assessments have also not been conducted on a large scale.

About research

Researchers collected the most reliable estimates of wasted and lost food from several commodity groups, geographic regions, and food supply levels. Their definition of FLW included inedible parts and preharvest losses, but excluded seeds and materials converted to animal feed, bio-based products, or other material uses. Ta.

They used the database to track nutrition and food supplies across the different stages of the FSC and create an input-output framework at the global level. Additional analysis included his FLW trends at the country level from 2004 to 2014, and also took into account the impact of international trade. The environmental footprint of FLW power generation was calculated by integrating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and land and water use data.

Investigation result

The results show that 1.92 gigatons of food were wasted in 2014, an increase of 24% compared to 2004 levels. Traded food accounts for almost 16% of global food waste. As consumption of processed foods increases around the world, the manufacturing stage has been the biggest contributor to this significant increase.

However, agricultural cultivation, including post-harvest management, accounted for almost half of the world’s FLW (956 megatons). Regarding plant-based waste, sugarcane and sugar beet cultivation were the main culprits.

India, China and North America (particularly the US) together account for 43% of the world’s food waste. However, in terms of FLW per capita, high-income countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, and Australia are the largest contributors, while India and China’s FLW contribution per capita is much lower.

An important difference between high- and low-income countries was which stage of the FSC was most wasteful. In low-income countries, more losses occurred during early stages, such as during post-harvest handling and storage. In contrast, high-income countries waste more at final stages such as consumption.

Decomposition analysis shows that food demand growth accounted for 96% of the increase in FLW from 2004 to 2014. Greece, Italy, and Japan were able to reduce FLW by addressing this factor, while Germany and Mexico were able to reduce FLW by changing the composition of their food products. their food.

As FLW increases, nutritional losses such as calories, protein, and carbohydrates also increase. The study estimated that an average of 775 calories per person are lost each day due to high intakes of sugar, processed foods and animal products, rising to 1,560 calories per person in high-income areas. Calorie and protein losses were lowest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Environmental footprint estimates suggest that nearly one-fifth of the world’s agricultural land and water is used to produce food that is wasted or lost. Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean islands accounted for most of the land area, while Southeast Asia, Oceania, and North America contributed the largest amount of water. In 2014, the carbon footprint of waste food was 1.8 gigatons CO2sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and North America account for the largest share of emissions.

conclusion

As the world’s population grows and wealth increases, FLW has resulted in increased environmental and nutritional pressures. Alarmingly, this study estimates that one-third to one-quarter of all food produced for human consumption is wasted or lost. The researchers validated their results and cross-referenced them with regional and country-level estimates where possible.

The authors acknowledged that there are certain limitations based on the lack of high-quality, detailed data, particularly in the final stages of the FSC and in low- and middle-income countries. Further research can build on these findings and conduct interdisciplinary research that fosters strategies to create a more sustainable and leaner global food system.

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